June 10, 2004

Tyranny and the Press

I found this passage, from Denis Mack Smith's Mussolini: A Biography, striking:

Just as foreign diplomats in Italy could be declared persona non grata if they kept in contact with the opposition, so the new undersecretary of state, Dino Grandi, operated an 'intimidation department' against foreign journalists and occasionally they were assaulted by fascist hooligans. Foreign editors who wanted to keep their correspondents in Italy were given stringent rules to obey; failure to comply with these would result in cables arriving so garbled as to be meaningless or held up on some pretext until the story was too old for publication. On the other hand, foreign correspondents who obeyed the unwritten rules were given privileged information and allowed to send their news without payment through the official telegraph wires; some of them were bribed with a monthly cheque from the press office and the more amenable were exempted from paying taxes. On sensitive issues like the murder of Matteotti, they were strictly forbidden to send anything except the official press release. Threats and bribes thus helped Mussolini not only to conceal from foreign readers the extent of his brutality, but also to convince many people abroad that he had saved Europe from bolshevism and that fascism had a social philosophy worthy of consideration.

It's a good and noble thing to risk one's life to publish the truth, and a contemptible thing to take money to puff up a tyrant. The press, unfortunately, has always had the latter types as well as the former.

Posted by Ideofact at June 10, 2004 10:49 PM