SEPTEMBER 10, 1956
GENEVA—The subject of the World Federation of United Nations Associations conference this morning was public opinion and the U.N. Lord Attlee, Professor Bokhari of the U.N., and I were the three morning speakers, and our speeches were of course followed by a question period.
Mr. Bokhari gave us a most interesting talk covering the things he felt might come before the U.N. in the next few years and what the function of the U.N. itself, through its public information service, must be in informing the public. He insisted it was not their function to persuade or propagandize—only to give information asked, and to tell the facts that were of general interest and that the public should know about. That is, of course, a good way to inform the public, but how far does the U.N. really reach the mass of the public in any case?
Lord Attlee remarked that it was difficult to tell what formed public opinion. Newspapers try to attract attention and often write for the most part about things that are sensational but little resemble the kind of information people should have in order to make up their minds as to whether their government is following an intelligent policy in world affairs. People would believe, said Attlee, whatever they saw in print in the paper they are accustomed to reading, and frequently very erroneous ideas would be spread abroad. How, then, were you to correct misinformation and create valid public opinion on a firm foundation?
All of these questions are of deep interest to the U.N. associations. Many of them do not enjoy advanced communications systems in their countries. This is especially true in areas of the world where there are no radios, no TV, and where newspapers are controlled or subsidized by the government. How do you reach those people and give them any basis on which to form public opinion? Because of the general concern about these matters, I heard a number of people say that they had found the morning session a very constructive one.
I was disturbed, in reading the European edition of the Herald-Tribune, to find pictures of a crowd on a street in Tennessee, with a rather lurid story on the subject of the Negro students in high school there. The front page also carried a picture of a White Citizens Council leader shouting before a crowd in front of a Clinton, Tennessee courthouse. Under the picture was the caption: "His Tirade Against Racial Integration Was Followed By Riots."
In certain countries over here, I am afraid, this picture will have a very bad effect. The photo struck me before I read the caption, because the picture looks to me like one of Hitler or Mussolini making a frenzied speech. Those of us who are old enough to remember prewar days in the late 1930's have seen many of those pictures of the two dictators. To be reminded of these gentlemen by an American citizen is not very pleasant.
The papers over here also carry such items as "President Plays Golf In 92 Degree Heat." The reaction in this part of the world is usually that anyone, let alone a President who is supposed to take some care of himself, should not be playing golf in heat of this kind.
Here, if anything, it is really cold. But the sun shone today, to everyone's enjoyment. My two grandsons hired bicycles and went for a little trip along the lake, and I think they felt much better for their venture. They also went looking for watches and were successful in finding one apiece.