2 APRIL 1948, Page 2

The Press and Monopoly

A United Nations Conference on freedom of information can easily be little better than a farce under the conditions existing in Europe. Certainly the speeches of Mr. Hector McNeil on the one side and of M. Bogomolov on the other at Geneva this week would seem to dispel decisively all hope of drafting any agreed declaration, whether binding or otherwise. Mr. McNeil's exposition of what freedom of the Press means could hardly be improved on. True democracy—not the bastard doctrine now adorned with that name in Eastern Europe—depends on a contest of opinions honestly held and freely expressed. Cr.iticism, so long as it stops short of certain recognised extremes, is essential to efficiency and the best safeguard against abuses. In a country like Britain one paper may go wrong, but there are always others to counter and correct it. Who or what, as Mr. McNeil very pertinently asked, can correct Pravda when Pravda goes wrong ? The Russian delegate's attack on Press " mono- polies " in Britain and Ameriai was inevitable, and limited by no slavish adhesion to fact. It cannot be too often repeated that of the London morning papers, which supply the needs of five-sixths of all morning paper readers, no two are under the same ownership. That is our answer to the monopoly charge ; how M. Bogomolov answers such a charge is not recorded. But with it all the Geneva Conference is worth holding and a convention on freedom of information is worth drafting. The delegates from Eastern Europe may not sign it—it is obviously impossible that they should—but to set agreed standards for the rest of the world will be a valuable step forward. There must be no question here of a Russian veto.