JUNE 5, 1952
NEW YORK, Wednesday—We had a very interesting debate yesterday in the Human Rights Commission on freedom of information, which, of course, includes freedom of the press.
In the General Assembly an effort was made to write a covenant on the freedom of the press, but it was given up because we found that it developed into a covenant of limitations instead of freedoms.
This very general article in the covenant on human rights, which deals with freedom to receive information and to impart it and freely to express one's thoughts, has been a most difficult article to phrase. Almost always we find this delegate or that delegate adding limitations to be included in the article until you hardly think there is any freedom left. Or else someone is suggesting vaguely that this freedom of expression must advance good feeling and peace among nations.
Who is to judge whether what appears in a newspaper or a magazine advances peace and good feeling among nations? All you can expect from any publication is that it will attempt to give the facts as fully as possible. Any opinions expressed will frankly be the opinions of the people writing and those cannot be stated as facts.
I had to argue again for the freedom given by our United States Government, which keeps its hands off except in time of war when censorship necessarily has to be established over much information.
The Egyptian delegate made a very moving appeal to the United States, saying he well understood our traditional attitude on freedom of the press but that that attitude was of the vintage of the Monroe Doctrine when we were more or less an isolationist nation. Now, whether we like it or not, he said, we are a world power, one of the leading great nations of the world. He argued that we must not allow our press to be irresponsible in the way it has been in the past, taking only a traditional attitude. And he pointed out that an attitude of consideration of the world situation is really essential to us as well as to the rest of the world.
I told him that I understood his point of view but any change in our present attitude could not be made, as I saw it, by an edict pronounced by the government. A change would have to be gradual and it ought to come from the press itself through a realization of its responsibility in world situations. It would have to write its own code of ethics for reporters, editors and publishers.
The Soviets, of course, not being able to accuse us of accepting government control of the press, accused us of being controlled by advertisers. To some degree this may be true, but it is evident that even that control is not as dangerous as control by the government. And to have the Soviets say that our press is a menace to friendly relations because of the wicked things we say about them is funny to anyone who reads the Soviet press. They say things about us that are far more wicked and, I dare say, many things that are untrue.
After dinner on Tuesday evening I returned to the United Nations building for an interview by the U.N. press correspondents. I think they would have liked to continue the discussion long after the program came to an end.