THE WINDS OF CHANGE IN THE NEW NATIONS
An Address by
ROY H. THOMSON Chairman, Thomson Newspapers Limited
Joint Meeting with the Canadian Club of Toronto
Monday, January 7, 1963
CHAIRMAN: Vice President of the Canadian Club, Mr. Donald M. Deacon.
MR. ROY THOMSON: It is just nine years ago, almost to the day, that I departed these shores for a new life in Britain. In those nine years I have re-oriented my thinking completely in terms of world affairs and, to a large extent, with regard to the British Commonwealth. As I see things now, I realize how difficult it is for Canadians, perhaps because of living in the shadow of such a dominant world power as the United States, to take a realistic view of just what is going on in the world, and the part that Canada should, and largely is not, playing in world affairs.
Yet Canada, and Canadians, are accepted everywhere because we are neither of the old school of military imperialism, like the British, French and Germans, nor of the new school of American dollar imperialism. We are not selfseeking, our viewpoint is detached and we are completely acceptable. It is for that reason that I am grateful for this opportunity of talking to my fellow Canadians and telling them something about Britain, the British Commonwealth, and the world in general, from a background of experience which I did not possess nine years ago, after a life completely spent with Canada as my horizon. Today is unique in the history of the world. New nations are being born almost monthly. New alliances are being forged and old ones discarded. Hundreds of millions of people are acquiring freedom. It is a fascinating picture which is unfolding in the formation of these new nations. By their own choice they have literally cast themselves adrift from their previous protecting power. They must develop their national life under new and untried statesmen. They seek new paths of government and face problems of the greatest magnitude. There is no parallel in history for this voluntary transfer of power. What makes it all the more remarkable is that it did not come about by defeat in war or by revolution. In most cases it is Britain who has freely and honourably granted independence to these peoples as soon as they were ready to make use of it and, in many cases, even sooner.
This is the Commonwealth as we should see it. It is the only truly successful experiment in the evolution of peoples to freedom; the only place where nations achieving independence have retained democratic forms, under enormous handicaps of poverty and illiteracy. But the hold of democracy on uneducated and emotional people is precarious and we, the older and more mature countries, must give leadership. The British Empire, in one sense, came to an end with the Statute of Westminster in 1931, and even this only formalized the substance of the Balfour Memorandum of 1926. The countries whose independence was thus recognized were all those whose inhabitants were of European stock, but since the war-and more particularly of recent years-the legalistic ties have been dissolved on an almost complete scale.
The Empire has been replaced by the Commonwealth, an association of free peoples whose precise nature is difficult to define and which is often not understood by outsiders. What really links it together is a common philosophy of government, which basically consists of a belief in the dignity of the human being and in the rights of the individual. This operates through three institutions-a democratically-elected legislature, an independent judiciary, and freedom of the press and other means of mass communication. Sharing the great heritage of the English language, we are in a special and fortunate position to play an important role in world affairs. The English language, though it is not always everybody's first language, is the usual common medium of intercommunication. This was the part played by Latin at the time of the dissolution of the Roman Empire nearly twenty centuries ago. But because most people, though they spoke Latin, could not write it, that language fragmented into a number of different dialects which eventually turned into languages of their own, none of them understandable by speakers of the others (French, Italian, Spanish, Roumanian). If the function of the English language to act as a cohesive element among the free peoples of the world is not to be similarly dissolved, it is not sufficient that it should be spoken. It must also be written and read by mass populations, not just by a small elite. This reinforces the need for highly-developed media of mass communication, as a major factor in promoting a high level of literacy.
Communication is surely the spine of civilization. The needs of developing countries are, above all, education and national integration. For both, mass media are all-important weapons. In these new nations there are hundreds of millions of people who must needs be educated and through education comes the growth of intelligence. It is my opinion that orthodox methods of education will be too slow and will not develop quickly enough to cope with the immediate need. We have got to show WHY democracy is preferable to other ideologies, WHAT the benefits are of living under a democracy. We have first to make people understand, and then aggressively want, the advantages of free enterprise. Obviously, communications have a vital role to play.
It has taken us several centuries of education and experience to develop our intelligence to where it is today. It has taken even longer for the world to acquire its sense of nationhood and interdependence and longer still to inculcate in us our appreciation of the benefits of democracy.
All these objectives must be accomplished in these new nations in a fraction of this time, certainly in not more than decades where it was centuries for us. Remember these new nations are battlegrounds of the Cold War and in the battle of ideologies time is not on our side. We must show these new nations that our system of life is best, that in the long run they will benefit most by being democratic and living under a free enterprise system. It is our responsibility to prove all these facts to them-and do it quickly.
The Industrial Revolution, which took place in the western world during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries was made possible, the historians tell us, by the change from a "subsistence" to an "acquisitive" economy -that is, people were no longer content to keep alive, as their grandparents had done, but started wanting things, and trying to better their condition.
If the emergent nations are to increase their standard of living, as they must do, and also keep pace with the population explosion-their peoples must learn to want the good things of life, and to want them sufficiently badly to be prepared to work to get them, and to change their traditional patterns of life in order to make this work efficient. This cannot be accomplished without modem media of mass communication. Nor can it be accomplished without adequate advertising facilities, since advertising is an assential part of distribution and distribution is the most effective generator of production. If people want consumer goods badly enough, they will work to get them, and will work at producing them. Forced labour, industrial direction and secret police are inefficient, inhuman, and to intelligent human beings, completely unacceptable.
Making free institutions work has nothing whatever to do with either race or colour. It is a matter of education and the experience and intelligence that comes from such education. Free institutions can never work in any community whose people have not learnt to be tolerant and considerate of the opinions of others and to be just to those who oppose them. The essence of democracy can be summed up in the phrase, "Do unto others as you would be done by." This is difficult to put into practice, for the application neither comes easily nor naturally to men. It is instinctive in the human animal, whatever his pigmentation, to react vehemently and intemperately against any view strongly contrary to his own and to act without justice towards those who for any cause he distrusts or fears.
This is the reason why so many of the inhabitants of the vast and still organically un-united region, the Belgian Congo, are as yet unable to make a parliamentary and democratic system of government work without disastrous results to themselves. It is not because they are dark in colour or of African descent, but because they have never been educated for this difficult exercise in self-discipline. Before they can hope to operate such a system without unloosing, as they have done, murder, arson, rape, mutilation and genocide, they have to learn to be tolerant and just towards those from whom they differ.
Colour discrimination exists because people refuse to think. The pigmentation of men's skins differentiates them from one another in nothing but colour. What causes them to differ in behaviour and character is their antecedents and education. What the world needs today, black and white alike, is to rid itself altogether of the habit of thinking in terms of colour, and to judge a man, whether he be black or white, brown or yellow, or just a mixture of all four, solely by this character and capacity.
Have you ever considered what we would be like if our parents had been completely ignorant and unable to teach us the basic facts of life and start us off on the right path? Supposing we had never observed, during our lifetime, the actions of other intelligent people. Supposing we had never had any education and learning which greatly increased our intelligence. Or had lived in a backward economy where we could not watch the progress of events and take advantage of the example set to us by others. If this had been our background, we would not be very intelligent ourselves and we must realize this is the great handicap that these new nations have to overcome.
I am completely convinced that something constructive must be done to hurry along the development of these emerging peoples. I believe this can best be accomplished through mammoth help in the development of their mass media of communications. We in Canada, Britain and the United States are particularly fitted to give this kind of help and we must do so. There are great economic problems in connection with the establishment of a free, truthful and objective press, and television stations imbued with that same sense of integrity. Generally speaking, in these new nations, such ventures are not viable. Revenues are not available to adequately support them: It inevitably follows that if these peoples are to have mass media of quality and integrity, they must be supported. In the initial stages, they have not the momentum towards success that is usual in the more developed nations.
It is with this purpose in mind that I recently announced the setting up of the Thomson Foundation. With the complete consent of members of my family, who are my heirs and partners in my various businesses, it is the intention to place in this Foundation securities to a value of some $15 million. This will be available to assist in the development of mass media in these new nations. The purposes of the Foundation are many and the ways they will operate to advance these purposes are manifold.
I have observed that one of the great requirements for the establishment and carrying on of newspapers for these emerging people is training for their personnel. They have to have technical help in purchasing their machinery and laying out their plant. They must have men trained to be competent journalists. Training must be available in business management and the selling of advertising, to make the Press as self-supporting as possible. All these purposes, and many more, will I hope be served by the Foundation. Undoubtedly financial help will be required to get many of these newspapers started and to keep them in existence as they develop.
I give television an important role in what is really an overall plan of development of education and learning because this is in effect what the whole programme is designed to accomplish. Training must be given to local personnel in all phases of television, from the production of programmes through the engineering operation of the stations, to the various aspects of business management. To this end we have already established a television college near Glasgow. It will be operating in the spring and we believe will turn out trained personnel of high calibre who will be available to aid the development of television on a sound basis in their own countries.
High on the list of priorities will be the establishment of journalistic training centres, because I consider it is of prime importance that these newspapers should be honest in every sense of the word. In this great development, nothing in my opinion is more necessary than the establishment of an honest, informative and truthful press allied with television stations, magazines and books all imbued with these same qualities of integrity.
In many of these new countries education will be compulsory. Millions, tens of millions, of youngsters are learning to read and write. What are they going to read? Lying, dishonest propaganda? World and local happenings distorted and twisted? Our type of life misrepresented? Or are they to have constantly presented to them the way of life which we know has brought us such happiness and prosperity and such a high standard of living? Are they to have an honest, factual account of what is really happening in the world? Honesty in the press and in other communications media will not just happen. Personnel must be available, trained in our tradition of complete objectivity and integrity. I think this training can only be made available through a charitable non-profit-making foundation, such as the Thomson Foundation. I am sure what the Thomson Foundation can accomplish in that respect will have a great, continuing and constructive effect on the development of these new nations.
I know, from my own observation, that we, who live in enlightened, progressive and free countries, do not realize the problems that are involved in raising the standards in these nations. Generally speaking, we have no conception of what I consider is our responsibility in this work. We must join doctors, scientists and engineers in helping to raise the level of emergent peoples. We must pass on our know-how and experience in whatever work we are engaged.
In connection with the development of mass media, there are political difficulties which are formidable. Anyone attempting to set up media in former colonial countries is usually suspected either of political interference or of economic imperialism. Television in this respect has an easier time than newspapers, because television can get along without comment. Newspapers cannot. It has been my experience that comment, however fair and unbiased, always has the worst motives read into it. If editors criticize the Opposition, they are accused of being in the Government's pocket. Conversely, if they are critical of the Government, the heat is turned on them in many ways, both obvious and subtle. Suppression is an ever-present threat; much political news can be censored at the source and restrictions imposed on publication. All this we will have to live with for some time, but I am convinced that if media are run honestly and fairly, we will ultimately gain acceptance by governments and peoples alike. A great help towards this end will be the services which media can provide in the purely social fields such as hygiene, child care, agricultural techniques and social education generally. This is a field in which the possibilities for good are limitless.
An important aspect of running media in under-developed countries will be the image these countries get of the West. If we do not sermonize or condescend, but concentrate instead on dispassionately passing on technical and scientific knowledge and the fruits of our political and social experience, providing them, as it were, with the distillation of our practical experience without them having to make the mistakes we made in acquiring it, we will have gone far towards getting them to accept the concepts on which are based the liberties and achievements of Western civilization. My organization has set up television studios in eight overseas countries already, and we are negotiating in many more. Usually we set them up and operate them for a period of years, and then hand them over to the countries concerned.
In conclusion, let me make myself quite clear on one point, if the Thomson Organization goes into the newlyemergent countries of Africa, Asia and the Caribbean in order to promote newspapers, magazines and television stations, this is because we feel we have a technical job to do. We do not regard it as our function to use these media in order to interfere in their social or political affairs. This is not our business, any more than it is the business of an engineer who builds a hydroelectricity plant, what food is cooked with the electricity he provides. All we insist on are the two basic principles of Thomson newspapers' instructions to all executives:
1. Operate your newspaper in the best interests of the people of your community.
2. Tell the truth and report all news and happenings factually and without bias.
There are a lot of reasons why people may choose to run newspapers, including the desire for personal prestige, a lust of political power, and other forms of megalomania. I run newspapers because this is the job I know best, and I try to run them in whatever way makes them of greatest service to the community. This means being of service not only to their readers but, through the advertising medium they provide, also of service in facilitating the trade and commerce which are so vital a part of community life.
In fact, apart from the two basic instructions I have already quoted, I do not, so far as editorial matter is concerned, run the newspapers at all, because if I did they would fail in what I regard as their proper task. A newspaper is a living thing, owing its existence to an unwritten contract between itself and its readers. Now, if the relationship thus established is a healthy one, the newspaper should be viable and, in the long run, profitable, so you have no justification for changing, unilaterally, its contract with its readersthat is, its editorial policy and style. If a newspaper is losing money, the chances are that its business management is not working at full efficiency, so you try to put that right first. When you have done this, if it is still running at a loss, you then have to ask yourself whether it is filling any real need, and if you come to the conclusion that it isn't, then you either close it down or send it off on a new editorial tack. Your readers having already withdrawn from their side of the contract, you are entitled to do so on yours. But otherwise it is my firm belief that a multiple publisher has no justification for interposing his own personality between his newspapers and their readers.
Finally, let me say that in launching and maintaining our programme for the new nations, we will have to endure a good deal of suspicion, misunderstanding and conflict in these days of the winds of change. But the role of educator is a role which responsible persons dare not shirk. In a world of tension, with disbelief and suspicion so prevalent, education should not so much be a matter of lofty abstractions but of earthy practicability.
And in this hope, and indeed essential need for mankind, the Thomson Foundation will, I can assure you, play a vigorous part.
THANKS OF THE MEETING were expressed by Mr. J. Palmer Kent, Q.C.