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15. Chapter XV. The Press.

THERE is an old song, the refrain of which runs “It must be true because it's in the papers.” The majority of people believe what they see in cold type if it does not conflict too strongly with their own opinions. Only those who have had an opportunity of getting behind the scenes realise how unreliable the ordinary newspaper is. Part of the blame rests upon the system. Take ordinary news, which may be classed as the gossip and scandal of the community put into print. The reporter does his best to give a correct report of a public meeting or some other incident, but owing to the exigencies of space the sub-editor cuts slabs out of it, and alters the whole tenor of the report.

Again, every paper has a policy laid down by its proprietors, and the man whose brains are hired to act as editor must build according to design and specification. The paper caters for a certain class of readers, and only prints what makes the paper sell, and thus secures advertisements. Readers like an organ which clearly puts ideas that are floating more or less vaguely in their own minds, and throw down in disgust any paper which exposes the falsity of long-cherished opinions. The people generally are not seekers after truth. They like what panders to their own vanity, and they get it.

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The big, well-established newspaper is a money-making concern. Its income is mainly derived from advertisements, and it will not get these unless in its policy it favors the commercial classes. All advertisements are not found in the regular advertising columns nor are they even denoted with an asterisk or the abbreviated “advt.” at the bottom. The American system has already secured a place in Australian journalism, and in ordinary news items, if the name of a company or firm is mentioned, it is nearly sure to be an “ad.” The reports of the half-yearly meetings of banks and the annuals of insurance companies are mostly paid for as “ads.” The report of an alleged street accident, in which a hotel is named, is an advertisement. The accident has not occurred, and the account of it was pure fiction.

As for the cable news, there is probably a substratum of truth sometimes, but how much no one can tell, because it is amplified in the office of the paper which publishes it. Only one cable comes to Australia, and it is controlled by a ring composed of the leading dailies in our cities. In honest amplifying, the way it is interpreted depends on the acquaintance of the person doing it with old world movements. Boiled down, it is safe to say that the average man who depends for his education upon newspapers will be a very misinformed man, to say the least. He would be better informed if he only read novels.

Then the system of getting country news is bad, and invariably leads to the coloring of “facts,” if not to their creation. The country correspondent

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is paid by the line, generally a penny half-penny. He is not allowed to wire news unless it is important and sensational. He is only paid for what is published, and he may lose his connection with the paper if he telegraphs matter not, in the opinion of the editor, good enough for publication. Hence the correspondent, if he has a vivid imagination, takes care that the matter wired is such as will make good reading.

One or two illustrations out of scores known to me will do. During strike time news is eagerly looked for. In Queensland, in 1891, a shearer who was a bit of a wag rode into a town and was at once pounced on by the newspaper correspondent of one of the Brisbane dailies. He was asked if there was any news. He replied:

“Oh, haven't you heard of the riot and burning down of — woolshed?”

Pressed for further particulars, he gave them splendidly out of his own lively imagination. He reckoned he was doing a good turn to the poor correspondent. The shed named was thirty miles out, so the correspondent had no time to visit it. He telegraphed a graphic account of the alleged disturbance to his paper, and it was published under big cross-heads next day. As all the papers are associated, the same account was sent south, and every reader in Australia next day had the excitement of reading about the alleged outrage, and doubtless many joined in denunciation of unionists who would do such things. Probably the item was also cabled to the old world also. What happened to the correspondent is not known.

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In another case a shed was reported as having been burned to the ground by unionists, while as a matter of fact there were two feet of water all around it at the time, and no one near it, unionist or otherwise. When we remember that the leading press is bitterly hostile to Labor, we can understand how eagerly it circulates lying statements of this kind. The press is therefore utterly unreliable to take as an authority on any industrial dispute. Press inaccuracies have been exposed in the official reports of police inspectors, but of course the papers carefully suppress anything calculated to destroy or weaken that superstitious faith which the average reader has regarding his favorite journal.

Practically all the big daily papers in our cities are against Labor. In 1890 more than one editor gave up his position on leading Sydney dailies because he was ordered to write down Labor. As a matter of fact, it is hard to find a journalist on our press who is not a believer in and supporter of the Labor movement; but he has to earn his living, and like many another under our cruel social system, he cannot be honest and gain a crust. The remedy is, after all, in the hands of the workers themselves. They have the power, if they had the will and the patience, to build up papers for the presentation of the truth.

There are papers which now pose as being in the interest of Labor, which, if every man stopped taking them, would soon amend their policy to suit. Public opinion is to a large extent made by the press, but public opinion could also, if it willed,

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mould the press utterances. The present tendency of the workers, however, is to have a Labor daily, owned by themselves and run in their interests. The ideal method would be to have it on the lines of the present weekly “Workers,” namely, owned and controlled by the co-operating unions. There would then be no shares to be sold, nor any chance of capitalists getting possession. In Broken Hill, N.S.W., the unionists have already realised that ideal, as on the 2nd November, 1908, appeared the first issue of a union owned Labor daily—“The Barrier Daily Truth.”

The Australian Workers' Union is taking a ballot of its members during this year to ascertain whether they favor paying a couple of levies of £1 each for starting a Labor daily in Sydney. Money is being subscribed in South Australia for starting a Labor daily in Adelaide. When such papers start they will require to arrange for a special cable service, as the present combine will not allow them to join.

The attitude of the existing newspaper proprietors was made apparent some time ago, when a Labor daily was mooted in Sydney. The directors of the “Daily Telegraph” immediately issued a circular to all their newsagents warning them that if they sold the Labor daily the sale of the “Telegraph” would be taken out of their hands. Yet in its leading articles it advocates freedom of trade, and denounces all forms of boycott. In regard to the cable combine, it asserted that there was no such thing—that there was full freedom for any journal—whilst at the same time the chairman of its

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board (Major Randal Carey) told the shareholders in his report that the arrangement had been renewed for another five years, and that it practically prohibited any other newspaper coming into the field.

In connection with the big Sydney dailies some highly interesting facts came out under examination by a Select Committee of the New South Wales Parliament, obtained by Labor members in 1902. The Sydney press is strongly capitalistic, and openly anti-Socialistic and anti-Labor. Capitalistic Governments depend upon the big dailies for their political existence. The influence of the big newspapers was sufficient to get a law passed granting free carriage of newspapers through the post. So far back as 1874 the two morning papers began sending their parcels direct to the railway station, and the Postal Department paid one-quarter parcel rates for them.

In May, 1887, Minister for Railways John Sutherland granted a special express goods train starting at 4.50 a.m., which, running from Sydney to Albury, delivered the parcels en route, the taxpayer paying the cost. In March, 1888, the railway people asked the Postal Department to pay £2000 for this work. They accepted £1500, but in 1890 asked for £2500, and it was agreed to pay that sum for three years. The department continued to pay that sum, however, until Federation came and knocked the whole scheme to pieces. The following two clauses from the report of the Select Committee clearly show what a profitable game these highly moral newspaper companies had on:—

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Clause 7. “That for a number of years the ‘Sydney Morning Herald’ and ‘Daily Telegraph,’ in plain contravention of clause 2 of the Newspapers Postage Act, enclosed within parcels of newspapers sent by post advertising sheets known as contents bills, specimen pictures, etc., and that large quantities of this matter were thus illegally transmitted free when, according to law, they should have paid postage.

“8. That the contract entered into by the New South Wales Railway Commissioners with the proprietors of the Sydney newspapers to carry their goods for a gross annual sum of £3172, when according to their own legal advertised rate (see Railway Time and Fare Table Book, p. 157) they should be charged over £10,000 (see appendix p. 15), is, in the opinion of your Committee, both a breach of the Railway Act and an improper concession made to a few newspaper proprietors at the expense of the public revenue.”

This is another glaring case of how capitalistic Governments take the taxpayers' hard-earned cash and transfer it into the pockets of a few persons who control interests which may assist in keeping capitalists in power. For many years Sydney newspapers had £10,000 a year handed over to them in this way, which of course went into dividends, whilst country newspapers had to pay full freight at goods rates on every pound of paper and other material they used.

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Prior to 1864 newspapers in New South Wales were sent free per post and by rail. Postage was charged from 1864 to 1874; from then up to Federation they were carried free. When the Commonwealth took over the Post Office in 1901 the Railway Commissioners made the arrangement with the newspapers referred to in the committee's report. Tasmania and West Australian Governments also carried newspapers free, the Postal Department of the Government paying in the former and the Government paying direct in the latter case. The total sums thus transferred into private pockets can only be guessed at, but they added considerably to taxation, and this is only one out of many items of a similar kind.