Italian Editors Skeptical, Says Westbrook Pegler

Westbrook Pegler

Daily Pantagraph/December 19, 1933


A couple of years ago I happened to be in Naples. No. That’s not honest.

I didn’t happen to be in Naples. I got to Naples after a lot of saving and planning and, on my first night in town, being something of a hack-driver and a visiting fireman at heart, I went around to the office of the morning paper to meet the journalists and talk a little shop.

For a city of such size the newspaper plant was a grubby little den, equipped with primitive and rickety machinery. But I would not dwell on that, for beautiful buildings and expensive apparatus might be bought with the wages of sin, and rags are royal raiment under certain conditions. The journalists around the shop seemed to be waiting for something and when I asked them why they didn’t sing out to the printers to take it away they said they hadn’t yet received their wire from home telling them just what pieces they were to play that morning and which they were to throw away, and what to use on page one and under what sort of heads.

No Freedom in Italy

I exclaimed “What,” meaning, of course, to strut before these fettered slaves the freedom which we enjoy in the newspaper business in this country, and one of the editors said sure, that in Italy the press was edited and censored entirely out of Rome. And that any editor who felt an attack of journalistic independence and ran a story or refused to run one contrary to instructions would, to phrase it in Americanese, get slapped in the boob for a term of years.

“Don’t you have any censorship at all in the United States?” he asked, and I said, carelessly and with perhaps a ton of superiority, “No, they wouldn’t stand for that in the United States.”

“But the owner of the paper,” said my friend the Italian journalist, “he can order the editor to leave articles out of the paper can’t he? Or he can order the editor to publish a certain article if he wants it printed, I suppose.”

United States is Fortunate

“Oh, sure,” I said, “The owner is the owner. He can print what he wants to in his own paper.”

“I don’t suppose though,” the Italian said, “that an owner of a newspaper would ever wish to publish an article or suppress one for some reason of his own, would he? If he happened to be in favor of some law or some policy of the government which happened to favor some property in which he was financially interested he wouldn’t permit that fact to affect his news judgment, woud he?”

“Although, of course,” he said, “in a country where anybody with enough capital to do so has a right to run a newspaper just as he pleases I should think some men who would buy newspapers just to promote their interests with propaganda, or might it be that some man who happened to own a newspaper would be willing to sell his support for some law or tax or politician just to make money? Or oppose something for the same reason? Any kind of man might make money enough to buy a newspaper. You must be very fortunate in the United States if it has just happened that the only men who have bought them are men of the highest ethical type who will permit their own papers to oppose their own business and political interests in the interests of truth and journalistic integrity.

Neither Possible There

“Here we have neither privilege nor obligation but of course where a paper has complete freedom from censorship or government control the owner must realize that this freedom also entails an obligation to strike at his own private interests if those interests conflict with the public interests. That would be a curious situation, wouldn’t It? A publisher, in his newspaper, prints articles day after day denouncing some company in which he had invested a great fortune. Or attack some statesman for promoting legislation which would help that company to make money.

“Is there any other qualification which a man must prove beyond his ability to support a paper financially in order to enjoy the freedom of the press in your country?”

I have been quoting him not literally, you understand, but in substance. About that time the phone rang and it was Rome on the wire with the instruction to the journalists in chains in the Neapolitan dungeon. The editor clapped a head set over his ears and took the schedule down. Then he put his pages together. There was surprisingly little stuff to be dumped into the hell-box, for his experience under censorship had taught him just about what he might use and what he mightn’t.

We went around the corner to a little all night place for sandwiches and wine and my friend, with a leer on his mouth which I tell you was almost personal, raised his glass to me and said, “Come, my colleague. Drink. The freedom of the press.”




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