Saturday, July 22, 2017

Curious Friends of Freedom (1958)

Editorial from the April 1958 issue of the Socialist Standard

There is one thing that the Tories and the Labour Party, the supporters of “controls" and the defenders of “private enterprise,” have long had in common: they are all the friends of freedom. They were all very anxious, or so they said, to protect the rights of Minorities and see that these Minorities received opportunities to state their point of view. But they differed, and differed violently, about the best way of securing this happy event. The Labour Party has always said that you cannot expect the profit-hungry Press Barons to play the game, and the sole way to get freedom of speech for Minorities was to have the Press and the Radio nationalised; then there would be reasonable facilities for every point of view, however small its numerical and financial backing. The newspapers and the advocates of commercial broadcasting scoffed at this. They pointed to the habit of bureaucratic Government organisations, once they got a monopoly, of blotting out every dissident point of view.

As the Socialist Party of Great Britain is a small organisation, we are the very people whom both groups were dying to serve. So how could we fail to benefit? If Tweedledum defaulted on his principle we only had to turn to Tweedledee to get a fair deal. And thus it didn’t turn out. Tweedledum and Tweedledee found that they don't disagree at all, for they both see eye to eye about not giving the Socialist case a chance to be heard. So for over twenty years the B.B.C. has refused to allow the SP.G.B. an opportunity to put its case on the air and this in spite of the recommendation of the Committee set up by the Government which in 1949 recommended that the B.B.C. should consider giving “all minorities which had messages, religious or other, some time to broadcast.” But there still remained the other groups, those who got their chance to behave differently when commercial television was started. They were going to show how much better they would do things than the B.B.C. On February 10th of this year in an I.T.V. lecture on “ International Socialism," Mr. A. J. P. Taylor, Fellow and Tutor in Modem History at Magdalen College, Oxford, made a statement which viewers heard as bring in the terms that all Socialist Parties supported the 1914-18 war. We wrote to Mr. Taylor and to Associated Television Ltd. on February 11th, drawing attention to this and asking that Mr. Taylor defend or withdraw his statement, and that the controllers of the programme allow us facilities to state our position. In order that there could be no reason for doubt about the facts, we forwarded to Mr. Taylor a copy of the Socialist Standard for September, 1914, in which our manifesto reaffirming Socialist opposition to war was published. From Associatd Television Ltd. we received a letter saying that “the import of Mr. Taylor's remarks in connection with the 1914-18 war were not quite correctly stated by you in your letters"—but not giving the correct version: a courteous letter; which, however, ignored our request, though it expressed the opinion that no doubt Mr. Taylor “will be making any reply to you which is appropriate."

At this point it may strike the reader that Mr. Taylor doubtless erred quite innocently—his historical studies might well not have extended to noticing a small organisation; but he would naturally put the matter right without delay.

But six weeks later we had not heard from him. With our accustomed charity we appreciate that his various activities, including his preparations for and appearance in, a programme called “Free Speech," might take up much time and in addition he was busy writing for the Press. In the Sunday Express (2nd March, 1958) appeared an article by him defending certain organs of the Press against some Bishops and M.P,s and the Times. In this article Mr. Taylor called them men who “imperil freedom.” His particular concern was that these men had made “exaggerated charges, false charges, charges that should never have been made," in connection with the photographs published after the Munich disaster to Manchester United footballers. It may be wondered what this has to do with our subject matter. The point is that Mr. Taylor agreed that the offending critics of the Press made their charges as “the result of an honest mistake." But, he wrote indignantly. “What about a withdrawal and an apology? Not at all. Silence by the bishops; silence by the M.P's.; silence by the Times."

Need we labour the point? Pray, silence for Mr. Taylor of Television Free Speech fame!

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