SEPTEMBER 29, 1949
NEW YORK, Wednesday—To many people the autumn season means football games, crowded stadiums, exciting moments. To those of us who attend the United Nations sessions of the fourth General Assembly it means a return to work, long hours of listening to speeches, trying to think out the best way of dealing with problems and then trying to persuade the other members of our committees that our point of view has validity and is not a cloak for some hidden motive!
Our meetings in Committee 3 began last Friday, but were adjourned shortly after electing officers. On Monday morning the first item on our agenda was a discussion of the draft convention of Freedom of Information. We had worked on it with such unsatisfactory results in the adjourned session of last spring that some of us felt the areas for agreement were so remote it would be better to refer it to the Human Rights Commission. We asked them to include provisions in the Covenant, which they are now drafting, since Freedom of Information is one of the basic human rights. We felt the item could be retained on the agenda until the fifth session of the General Assembly. Then, it was felt, if the general principles included in the Human Rights Convention were not sufficient, it would still be possible in the light of those accepted principles to try to draft a convention.
In the last session of the General Assembly we did draft a convention on the "Transmission of news and the right of correction," but this was largely a technical convention. Certain small countries felt that this convention was important to countries, such as the United States and the United Kingdom, that had great facilities for gathering and disseminating news. They feared, however, that it might in some instances place them at a disadvantage. They feel it doubly important, therefore, to have the principles of Freedom of Information clearly stated.
On the other hand, it is difficult to get agreement among nations because the existing conditions in various nations make them wish for certain restrictions which their particular conditions make desirable. You end up with so many restrictions that there is little or no freedom left. That is what convinced us that if we departed from the statement of broad principles and dealt with details at all, it would be extremely difficult to come to agreement. Evidently, experience led a large number of the other delegations, though they did not think it an ideal solution, to finally vote with us.
A suggestion made by the delegate from the Philippines and embodied in a resolution sponsored by the United States, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, passed by a very substantial vote. I realize that the Human Rights Commission will have to spend some time in trying to get acceptable provisions on this subject, but I hope it can be accomplished. In the meantime, the work of Committee 3 should be facilitated and we will move forward tomorrow to Item 2 on our agenda.