Section 38 [The Foundations of Culture in Australia, by P. R. Stephensen, 1936]

[Editor: This is a chapter from The Foundations of Culture in Australia (1936) by P. R. Stephensen.]

§ 38

Freedom of the press

The first precondition of a genuine culture in Australia is to establish, or re-establish, facilities for the free discussion of ideas, and of opinions: to establish that freedom of thought from which alone can arise the formulation of national policy through discussion, pro and con, by the best minds in the nation. This precondition is lacking in Australia.

It would be useless to pretend that there is Freedom of the Press in this sense in Australia. The press is no guardian of liberty now. It is merely venal, crudely subservient to Commerce (to the advertisers). Not one paper in Australia is conducted actually in the public interest. All are against the public, creatures of special and sectional interests; apologists for Commerce and legalised robbery; channels of dope dissemination; special pleaders; partisan to the marrow; and for these reasons the press in Australia is despised by the public, and the profession of journalism is at its lowest ebb. The wheel has turned full circle from the days when freedom of the press meant freedom to defend the public against extortion, tyranny, and oppression. Nowadays freedom of the press means freedom for the press to bamboozle and hoodwink the general public in the interests of a special minority. In most countries there are at least some old-fashioned journals which will truckle to no special interest, tell their readers the truth, criticise encroachments upon public rights: and these journals make and unmake governments and national policies.

In Australia there are no such journals. The official censorship of books, the bureaucratic tyranny, is as nothing compared with the censorship upon Australian thought exercised by those editors who, anonymous in newspaper offices, defend big business against any “subversive” ideas, and kowtow daylong (and nightlong) to the advertisers. This censorship by editors establishes the Dictatorship of the Smug, the Hegemony of the Second-rate; and our poor defeated and timid intellectuals cannot cope with it; because there is no effective answer to an editor’s rejection-slip and no recourse against an editor’s blue-pencil.

Thus defeated, and in no other way, our intellectuals have withdrawn themselves, with private groans, from the current of actual life in Australia into their pipe-dreams and fantasies of Europe.

The gulf between intellectual and actual life, between the withdrawn European fantasists and the common or garden Australian who despises their “culture” (and no wonder), is a gulf which can be crossed easily once we begin to accept our national destiny fully, and begin to work to realise it.

P. R. Stephensen, The Foundations of Culture in Australia, W. J. Miles, Gordon (N.S.W.), 1936, pages 130-135

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