10 JANUARY 1964, Page 11

The Press

By RANDOLPH S. CHURCHILL N important piece of political news was ...made available to the newspapers for pub- lication on December 31, 1963. It was a list of sixteen speeches which the Prime Minister was to make in the first six months of 1964. This is how the papers handled the story:

Column inches Page Daily Express Daily Mail ..

Guardian .. Daily Herald Daily Telegraph The Times -

Daily Mirror .. 0

Daily Sketch . . 0

Daily Worker . . 0

Sir William Haley is 'at it again.' No one expects important information like this to be printed in the Daily Mirror or the Daily Sketch; after all, they aren't really newspapers. But what of The Times, which costs 2s. 6d. a week and claims to be a 'paper of record'? What are We to think of Sir William's control of that Paper? Of course, I suppose that the electronic suppressors at Printing House Square must be very expensive and the capital cost of them has sot to be amortised and they must be maintained In first-class working order. Very likely three- pence of our weekly 2s. 6d. goes in this process. ,r40 one can say that they aren't worth a nalfpenny a day. After all, it is only right that we should pay extra for a paper that is so care- fully censored. Always remember that more im- portant than 'the power of the press' is 'the Power of the sup-press.' And Sir William must be most careful about what 'Top People' read.

* * *

The Financial Times reported last Saturday that the Sunday Telegraph is to produce next Sunday a colour supplement on the Pope's visit . Front,

101 7 101 Front 7 2 61 Front 0

to the Holy Land. I understand there will be no extra charge for this supplement, which will be given away for free and which will cost the Sunday Telegraph between £25,000 and £30,000, and there will be no advertising to offset this large expenditure; but the Sunday Telegraph are, printing 850,000 copies as part of their attempt to overtake the Observer.

The colour supplement is being printed by Springer in Hamburg and the Sunday Telegraph editor Mr. Donald McLachlan tells me that there is no colour printing firm in this country that could have done the job so quickly. The photographs can only have reached Springer's last Sunday or Monday and delivery to London (fog permitting) will be made by air on Tuesday and Wednesday.

So secretive is The Times about its internal affairs that I have only just learned that more than a year ago its proprietor, Lord Astor of Hever of Hever Castle, transferred his shares in The Times Publishing Company to his eldest son, the Honourable Gavin Astor, who is now principal proprietor of The Times. In him is vested power to dismiss and engage the editor. For a man of forty-five this is a formidable responsibility. No wonder that people tremble . when Mr. Gavin Astor walks into Printing House Square.

A year ago Mr. Gavin Astor joined his father, Lord Astor of Hever of Hever Castle, aged seventy-seven, and Mr. John Walter, aged ninety, as one of the 'joint chief proprietors.' Mr. Astor is also chairman of the board of directors, Plainly he exercises proprietorial func- tions in view of his father's absence from the country and Mr. Walter's advanced age. Among those who have joined the board since Mr. Astor

took over the guiding rein are Mr. Walter's son, Mr. John Walter; Mr. Norman Walter, another member of the family; Lord Rupert Nevill; Mr. Seymour Egerton; Mr. Vincent Fairfax; and Captain Iain Tennant.

What a pity that he did not take the oppor- tunity of putting on the board Professor Hugh Trevor-Roper, Regius Professor of History in the University of Oxford, who is a close family connection. He, is married to the daughter of Field-Marshal Earl Haig whose sister is Mr. Gavin Astor's wife. If he were on the board he would insist on flogging- those electronic sup- pressors right away and we might then all get a better fivepence-worth out of The Times.

* *

Last Friday the New Statesman had a front- page story which alleged all sorts of mal- practices in the Government of Ulster. Last Sunday the Sunday Times in a four-column story by Lewis Chester carried the story a good deal further. Among other things he stated that a writ for libel is to be served on the New States- man on behalf of Mr. Williams and Mr. Wilson, who a few weeks ago pleaded guilty to defraud- ing the Ministry of Commerce in Northern Ireland of nearly £5,000 by fraudulent invoices for new machinery. The Sunday Times, which is an honourable paper, naturally disclosed that this story had first broken in the New Statesman.

That seasoned old warhorse, Mr. John Gordon, in his column in the Sunday Express lifted the story out of the New Statesman, did no extra digging and published a boiled-down résumé of the New Statesman's story without any acknowledgment; easy way to write a column.

We are accustomed to the Fleet Street adage 'dog don't eat dog' or, as I prefer to say, 'son of a bitch don't eat son of a bitch.' Now we have a new one: 'dog don't thank dog.'

* * *

A fantasy is an agreeable weapon in the armoury of a political, writer. I must admit that I am particularly attached to my own about Sir William Haley's electronic suppressors. On December 27 Mr. Anthony Wedgwood Benn writing in the Guardian had a delightful tale of a secret report on CIA activities which had fallen into the hands of the Conservative Central Office. He explained that the CIA was the Committee for Indirect Action. This was a group founded some years ago by some TOp Estab- lishment figures for the purpose of sabotaging or changing government policy which they ob- jected to. Neither the group nor the report exist, yet the story was sufficiently plausible for one not to rumble it until one was about half-way through.

The Guardian. however, evidently delighted with this witty piece, went a stage further and in its second leader on January 1 invented an 'annual report of the Conservative Party which will be welcomed as much for the insight it provides into one of the nation's best-known institutions as for its handsome binding.' Of course, the Central Office have never issued an annual report and consequently there could be no handsome binding. But this particular fantasy went too far. It even deceived the Guardian's lobby correspondent, Mr. Francis Boyd, who rang up the Central Office and asked where he could get a copy of the report. The Guardian had a good leg-pull; but if Mr. Boyd did not realise his leg was being pulled, how many readers of the Guardian may have been similarly deceived? Fantasy should not degener- ate into a hoax.