MR. CHURCHILL AND THE PRESS COUNCIL Si,—Mr. Randolph S. Churchill
speaks of the Press Council as 'the body which arrogates to itself so much pretended power.' He speculates on whether 'the strangely assorted members' of the Council 'in- tend to arrogate to themselves the right to reconsider decisions arrived at by Parliament,' indeed to usurp, the powers of Parliament.' He warns us that if we of the Press Council try to criticise (or maybe to overrule) a decision of the Lord Chief Justice, then Lord Goddard himself may want the satisfaction of dealing with 'presumption of so flagrant a character.'
What is the meaning of all this fee-fo-fum? Why should the Chairman of the Press Council be scared by a nightmare of Lord Goddard growling, 'See you later, arrogator'.? The plain facts are these, as the annual reports and the communiques of the Council show :
I. The Press Council came into being in response to the wishes of Parliament and after agreement by the main representative associations of the newspaper press. It seeks to safeguard the freedom of the press and combat abuse of that freedom. It has not gone outside the bounds of its constitution and has shown no intention of doing so.
2. It has been explained on every suitable occasion that the Council is a voluntary one elected by repre- sentative associations (hence its 'assorted' character) and has no powers of sanctions : but in the words of Lord Astor of Hever, who was its first Chairman, 'The less spectacular methods will probably be the most effective and our appeal to conscience and fair play has rarely been in vain.'
3. We of the Council have never tried to usurp the powers of Parliament. An editor wanted to know from us how he stood under the rules of Parlia- mentary privilege. We told him the position. No one has questioned the accuracy of our interpretation of a complicated doctrine. We did -not defend a iteadline that was in dispute. So far as I am aware, no impartial journalist has done so. But if we felt it our duty to criticise Parliament (as some citizens venture to do from time to time) we should bear in mind the declaration of the Committee of Privileges that said : 'The Committee thinks it im- portant that . . the law of Parliamentary privilege should not be administered in a way which would fetter or discourage the expression of opinion or criticism.'
4. We have not criticised the administration of the, law, but have expressed our opinions, as all citizens have the right to do, on the possible limitation of reports of proceedings before examiling magistrates, a subject to be inquired into by a Departmental Com- mittee. I cannot imagine how we could be supposed to overrule or to wish to overrule the decisions of the Lord Chief Justice. But if we ever did think of criticising legal decisions we should be aware that fair comment could be made without contempt of court when the proceedings were over.
5. Mr. Churchill complains that we took no action in the dispute about the sale of his book What I said about the Press. The sale of books is outside our province. We have no more right to tell a book- seller that he ought to stock Mr. Churchill's book than we have to tell a chemist that he must sell red, white and blue toothbrushes in honour of
Empire Day.—Yours faithfully, I.1NTON ANDREWS
Chairman of the Press Council Yorkshire Post, Leeds I