News in 20th Century America; 26; Freedom of Info
The following program was produced and recorded by the University of Michigan broadcasting service under a grant and aid from the Educational Television and Radio Center in cooperation with the National Association of educational broadcasters news in 20th century America. A series of radio documents on the gathering writing and dissemination of news compiled from interviews with men and women who make news their business by the nature of the structure of a free press. It must be free of government intervention by the. Letter of the libel law. And it must be free I think of any other kind of policing. Except that that depends on the conscience of the owners. Their ability to stay in business. And the answer to their readers. The voice is that of a Harry Ashmore editor of the Arkansas Gazette. One of the people whom you will hear today speaking about freedom of information. On this edition of news in 20th century America. Now here is your host
Glenn Phillips. With the freedom of the press guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution goes responsibility. Throughout this series we have interpreted the press to be any method of news dissemination with the written media and the spoken media have recognized the need of having guides of conduct to follow the canons of journalism were adopted by the American Society of Newspaper Editors in 1923 and amended in 1950 and the more recent guide for broadcasters were drafted by a special committee of the National Association of Broadcasters. The canons of journalism or code of ethics which it is also called it reads in part. A journalist who uses his power for any selfish or otherwise unworthy purpose is faithless to ahigh trusts freedom of the press is to be guarded as a vital right of mankind. Freedom from all obligations except that of fidelity to the public interest is vital
whether or not these are always adhered to depends upon human element and individual interpretations. Here is what two of the editors felt regarding the canons of journalism. First we hear from Millburn Akers editor of The Chicago Sun Times and then Harry Ashmore editor of the Arkansas Gazette in Little Rock. Well they resemble a great deal of canons of the American Bar Association in the code of ethics of the American Medical Association or the various statements of intent and purposes of different educational associations they resemble all those things. Probably because they are as much if not more honored in the breach than the observance. There again in all these cases you're dealing with human beings. I think that if the canons of the American Society of Newspaper Editors
were fully observed by every newspaper in the country. We be headed toward the millennium if the cannons of the American Bar Association were fully observed by every lawyer. If the ethical standards established by the Medical Association were fully absorbed by every doctor any profession any trade any group of people just the same. If these things were observed fully and completely of course we'd have a better country we'd have a better society. I think the canons of the American Society of Newspaper Editors is a plain present cation of a goal. It's one that we ought to be seeking. It's one many of us fall far short of but they're worth having even if they are as much honored in the
breach is in the observance because they give the paper a standard. Standard to meet. Well I think the as a statement of principle only one of ethics is fine. I have no particular quarrel with it because a great problem you encounter in any such Annunciation is that. Is that there is not and should not be any method of enforcing a canon of ethics. I think by its very nature the newspaper business is a highly individual one. It would be less than free. Were. The owners to be finally accountable to anybody except their consciences and their bankers. I think it's inherent to. Keep a maximum latitude and their readers of course. Should not have left out the readers. Therefore I don't think there's any way that you can organize a profession of journalism as you can the profession of law with a
standard of ethics that people can be drummed out of the profession if they don't meet. As I was saying I don't think that our. Business trade or profession lends itself to the kind of organization into a professional association or society. Which could serve to police the ethic the ethical standard of journalist. Where. Do the verges probably of that evident work. Of ever sit in judgment even upon each other. Therefore I think that by the nature of the structure of a free press it must be free of government intervention beyond. That of the level. And it must be free I think of any other kind of policing except that that depends on the conscience of the owners. Their ability to stay in business. And the answer to their readers. And personally with all of the aberrations that are committed by us.
I don't think the system is served just too badly. I would be extremely cautious and supporting. Any organized substitute for it. With a canon of ethics. Is lived up to perhaps more often than not. And I doubt that the bar association could make a Proud of boast even with its enforcement authority. Recently the broadcasters appointed a committee to draft a guide for broadcasting the news. They too have recognized responsibility as their prime duty. The guide States in its preface our highest duty as broadcasters is to inform the public. It's also is our greatest challenge and opportunity. We ask the chairman of the committee John Hayes of WTOP in Washington D.C. to explain the operational guide for news broadcasters about two years ago at a meeting of the Freedom of Information Committee of the NABC.
The subject arose. As to the necessity for having some guidelines for. Radio and television stations throughout the country and the creation and then the operation of news departments. I guess the. Basic reasons for the discussion were first of all the large number of new radio stations. Which had come on the air since the end of the last war. Plus the fact that so many television stations have gone on the air with no previous. Radio. Experience and they were then engaged in trying to set up news departments. At the same time as you know we have had several conversations. On the subject of what we call the public's right to know. Which leads generation to the discussion of how news in general should be handled and. Out of this amalgam there came a desire to create an operational guide. And from that this guide has resulted. We also asked Mr. Hayes what effect he felt this report would have on the broadcasting industry
if it just makes every station management sit back and begin to think about quote news unquote. I think it will and it will have more than fulfilled its purpose. The broadcasting is a very complicated business as you know. We're part entertainers were part sociologic were part psychiatrists were part salesman and were part reporters and sometimes in the in the great rush of the daily routine it's hard to forget one or more of those particular parts of our business and certainly in these days of sputniks. Things whirling around us and the world in a Cold War. Nothing could be more important news. And I think each management just. Every now and then must sit back and examine its news operation and wonder if it can be improved and how it should be improved. And if this operational guide will make managements do that it's all worthwhile. What is the responsibility of the press Mr Akers said in Chicago.
Well of course the question of what is a newspaper's responsibility is one that is a subject to be Turnell debate among newspaper men. Probably no two publishers no two editors seated exactly alike. Some say that a newspaper's first duty is to be solvent so that it can remain in business in order that by remaining in business it can serve the public. A newspaper is a very very peculiar institution in those respects. A newspaper must be solvent to stay in business because it is a business institution. On the other hand a newspaper should be dedicated to public service and it is in the meld of the blend that is achieved that you get the quality of the product or the lack of the product in the newspaper.
Whether the emphasis is put on one or the other. Both are essential. Both the. Earning capacity of a paper so that it can stay in business that is essential and the editorial integrity of the papers so it'll be worthwhile. That is essential to extent to which emphasis is placed on one or the other makes for a good or a bad newspaper. We ask Mr. Acres if there were instances of the press taking advantage of its power. Oh I think there are many examples where the press has abused its power but I think there are many examples in which the press might be said to have failed to have failed in that it didn't use whatever power it possesses to accomplish a good result.
It is passive at times and at other times it is an overhead. Thirdly some newspapers have been guilty of some venal Lankes some newspapers have failed to take positive action when such action was really good to the community. Some newspapers are famous for their dedication to the public service. Newspapers are GREAT be like individuals. It's a matter of fact it's a bromide in the business to say that a newspaper is a reflection of a man who owns it the man who controls it or the man who edits it. If his paper is controlled by a man of high standards men of integrity
men devoted to public service. The newspaper will probably be likewise if the newspaper is owned by a man whose only interest is in making money. The newspaper will probably be like way. It will be a reflection of ownership usually. They're gritty like human beings and they vary as do human beings that's why at the very outset I said it's difficult to generalize about newspapers as it's difficult to generalize about people as way. I usually disagree with Mr. Truman or even to Mr Stevenson when they indict the press as a whole. It was once said in English Parliament back in the days of the revolutionary struggle. I believe by Pitt that you cannot indict a people
and neither do I think you can indict as a whole an industry which is as very gaited as it is possible for anything to be. Speaking for the broadcasters Mr Hay said. I think every station must first of all decide what niche it wants to occupy in its own community. I've never really subscribed to the argument that anyone can cost a county news operation or that there ought to be a fixed. Amount which must be budgeted for news I think sometimes imagination and ingenuity. Makes up for a lack of funds. I think seems to me that. A station. Must decide how broad is its scope of news coverage. If it is a network affiliate. And has available to it the network's news resources much in the same way that a daily daily newspaper in a metropolitan area has available to it all the wire services.
Then if the affiliate will think of the network as a counterpart to a newspaper's wire services it is left then with the problem of local coverage. Now there are those stations which are not network affiliates and which do a superb job in news. What they must do is to use their their AP their UPI their other news services on wire in effect. At the place of network. Coverage which the affiliate has available to it. And then also do the local job. There really is no answer to this question it's like the old bromide How long should your trousers be and your legs be and they just have to be long enough to go from your waist to the ground. It's basically a management decision of what kind of news job do you want to do. How broad should be your new scope. And then if you're worried about cost what does it cost to do that. Going back to the broadcaster's operational guide momentarily we asked Mr. Hayes if there were any points of radio and television news coverage that would ideally be remedied by this guy.
Well there is the obvious wide open area of non coverage of certain public events and notably court proceedings on the broadcast media today. It is it is difficult if not impossible for most stations to move microphones and cameras into a court of law. That's obviously a wide gap which someday would have to be corrected. As far as other gaps are concerned. We didn't run across any gap which stood out above all others. It was. Mostly as I saw it and as I view it now looking back on the project of trying to find out really how stations were organized to cope with the problems of news coverage and how they had taken their individual steps to cope with this problem with the possibility of moving cameras and microphones into courtrooms we confront still a third group of canon it's
those of the American Bar Association These read in part proceedings in court should be conducted with fitting dignity and decorum. The taking of photographs and the broadcasting or televising of court proceedings are calculated to detract from the essential dignity of the proceedings. Distract the witness in giving his testimony. Degrade the court and create misconceptions with respect. There too in the mind of the public and should not be permitted into subsequent opinions by the American Bar Association. This Canon known as canon 35 has been upheld as being valid and proper. Here are two opinions given by journalists. The first is a broadcaster mark in the grand scheme of the National Broadcasting Company in Washington D.C. and the second is a newspaper man Harry Ashmore editor of the Arkansas Gazette. These were their answers to the question Should cameras and microphones be permitted in courtroom. And that's a difficult question to answer and one that everybody in the business has thought about an
awful lot including maybe I'm inclined to think there are some lines to be drawn. I would be I would I think that. It is perhaps best to exclude. Television cameras from courtroom hearings. Let's put it this way Suppose a man is up for murder and it so happens that in the end in this trial the verdict is acquittal. I think the very fact that he is up for murder even though he is finally acquitted and he is visible throughout the course of the
trial. Tags this man morbidly more lastingly more widely in public view with the statement than is true with the newspaper coverage. I don't mean that he escapes the opprobrium mistake when the newspapers cover but. I don't think it is as vividly brought home to the nation as a whole especially if it was sensational murder trial. We then asked Mr. Ashmore if he felt the cameras and microphones should be kept out of the courtroom he said. I'm inclined to agree with that I think that. The conditions vary but I lean toward maintaining the dignity of the court room as a place to still cameras to. If a cameraman can go in with a camera using no flash equipment no extraordinary lighting equipment
light camera that doesn't distract anybody I don't see any harm in it. But to let the photographers run rampant in the court room I think would be a mistake. And I don't think it has anything much to do with freedom of the press in my judgment. I mean after all as long as it can be reported and the public knows what went on there. Not sure if the public has a right to see what went on there in great detail. I know no way that you could let the teller of a Stiller movie have the same freedom of action in a court room with reporters as I have without destroying the dignity of the court and perhaps even jeopardizing the interest of the defendant. In some ways. It is a very serious question and I tend to lean toward the feeling that the judges are right. In keeping him out. What about the rights of broadcasters and newspapers. The First Amendment to the Constitution reads Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of
speech or of the press. Should this view be open for further debate. Nearly two centuries after it was written Gilbert salad days critic author educator and lecturer say. Well I think that I think that everything should be. Taught every day. I say every 10 years we want to examine. Ideas that we consider too sacred for examination. But as a newspaper go. It seems to me. Newspaper as it exists today. It was not a tour of imagined even by the writers of the First Amendment. There it's almost superfluous to examine into the abstract right of the press because.
This has become. Too fixed I think. I don't believe that. Unless the country was in mortal danger which means of course in war there's any possibility of altering. The status of the newspaper in regard to complete freedom to publish beyond the laws we have now. You know like that sort of thing. I think that every once in a while you get. Very odd interpretations but usually by newspaper proprietors there's the famous case of I think the late Colonel McCormick protested against the child labor Amendment. Because. It would. Prevent him employing Hughes boys under the age of 16. And he said that would be an invasion of the freedom of the press. I think that there you just deal with interpretations by the courts.
But it wouldn't be any to any purpose really to say let us inquire as to whether the press should or should not be free press. We say it was a great serious inquiry which was run by so I probably don't get it right. My recollection is that Life magazine universe Chicago Dr. Robert Atkins Dr. Robert Levy were or concerned inquiry into the nature of freedom of the press which had some very interesting results. But again while I think that. We can. Discuss to some purpose. Freedom of broadcasting as compared to the printing press. We better assume the press is going to have as close to total freedom as you possibly can get. Broadcasting I think another matter.
Mr. Selby's also spoke of the freedom to publish of the broadcasters. The first one is. Whether the broadcaster automatically has the same rights as a newspaper publisher. And to my mind the most interesting. Demonstration of the fact that there is a difference in people's mind may not be a difference. In fact we have to be a difference of principle but in people's minds there is a difference and the best instance of this occurred about must be a year and a half ago now. Sure there was the famous interview with Nikita Khrushchev's. Television which was put on by the Columbia Broadcasting System. A number of people felt very deeply that this broadcaster should have been instantly followed by a commentary or discussion.
Because it was about that otherwise we had open the channels to propaganda from an arch enemy country. CBS then arranged for a discussion the following week and one of the people invited who accepted it was George Meany of the AFL CIO. Then Mr meany with two. And the reason he gave was that he had understood that whatever Khrushchev had said might be quoted or you did too. But he discovered that they proposed in the course of the discussion to show Khrushchev again that this accept from the previous broadcast at this point he said no. This he felt would be multiplied the evil effect of the propaganda. Now the thing that struck me was he didn't mind someone say Nikita Khrushchev said so and so we mind it very much. I was seeing
Khrushchev saying he said it therefore implied. That the. Mechanics. Television fundamentally the visual image of television transmits a totally different effect from merely covering the world. Now what I really was impressed by was this. That probably Mr. Miller was saying something that a great many people felt and the implication behind that would be. That. Radio or possibly television certainly. Can not. Assume the privileges of the totally free press. Mr. meany would never of dream say that the
New York Times should not publish an interview with a jerk. He wouldn't have refused to enter a symposium in print in which Khrushchev was his words were repeated. But somehow he felt and I think a great many people also felt that even the impact of television. Itself is so different. Who are. We. Critical apparatus let's say of the public was so different that you simply could not expose people. To propaganda by television. Worse you could expose to it. In print possibly by radio. Oh on that basis I suggest that we want to examine. Why this feeling exists.
And to discover whether possibly there are certain deep psychological reasons which make television totally different in its effect and influence. From any other form of communication. My suggestion only is. That the reluctance of Mr meany which I use only as an instance should be examined. We should find out. Is there anything valid in this. And if so. What should television do about it. And what should we the people do about it. The press has started to do something about it. So have the broadcaster. But as Mr. Selby suggests what can the public do about it. It is ultimately their responsibility. And well it should be because like the government or the Constitution the press is only an instrument ality of a free people.
- News in 20th Century America
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- Freedom of Info
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- News in 20th Century America is a radio series on the gathering, writing, and dissemination of news. Each episode addresses a specific topic in the news industry, and features interviews with men and women who make news their business. This program is produced by the University of Michigan Broadcasting Service in cooperation with the National Association of Educational Broadcasters.
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Identifier: 59-48-26 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
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