GENERAL ARTICLES

Radio Can Threaten the Peace

"There must be a policing of radio by the United Nations after the war...That problem should have attention now"

GLADSTONE MURRAY June 15 1943
GENERAL ARTICLES

Radio Can Threaten the Peace

"There must be a policing of radio by the United Nations after the war...That problem should have attention now"

GLADSTONE MURRAY June 15 1943

Radio Can Threaten the Peace

"There must be a policing of radio by the United Nations after the war...That problem should have attention now"

GLADSTONE MURRAY

WHEN THE Nazis took over Brussels in the blitzkrieg of Belgium they brought with them a fully trained radio staff of technicians and program experts. They even had recordings specially prepared to bridge an interval of several days while the service was being adapted to the new conditions. These recordings had been so carefully done that the effect on the listener, unaware of the method, was to suggest a smooth transition.

This incident was told me in Lisbon by a former colleague of the International Broadcasting Union to whom one of the German officials even showed some recordings they had ready for use in Broadcasting House, London. Some of these, he said, were excellent imitations of the voices of the bestknown BBC announcers. The Germans clearly were convinced of their ability to take over the BBC without serious damage either to transmitters or to studios. This had been their pract ice throughout the blitzkriegs on the Continent.

Radio fits into the pattern of total war today. It is an integral part of the system which is designed to spread confusion among enemy troops and civilians prior to the overrunning of a given country. It has more than justified the expectations of the German General Staff which, as early as the twenties, recognized that without radio blitzkrieg would be impossible.

Right now the war of force is being paralleled by a war of ideas in the ether. The broadcasting of the British Commonwealth and of the United States is dovetailed into a tremendous instrument of propaganda and enlightenment. It has undoubtedly secured supremacy on the world’s short waves.

On the medium waves, however, Britain is enormously handicapped in dealing with the European situat ion. From the northernmost tip of Norway to the south of Italy, from the Russian front to the Portuguese border, nearly every medium-wave transmitter is carrying the Nazi message. Moreover, the proportion in transmitters is about one hundred Nazi to six British. From the military angle, however, the lessons of the

blitzkrieg have not been lost on the United Nations and radio will play its proper role in the invasions of the Continent.

At war’s end the United Nations will be faced with a great problem in regulating the use of radio. The problem is one which should be engaging attention now. There simply must be some policing of radio after the war by the United Nations.

If all restrictions are removed there will be certain confusion and possible grave danger. The remapping of Europemay reviveand intensify racial and minority ambitions and the Germans are wide awake to the possibilities of radio in sabotaging the peace negotiations. With their customary thoroughness and foresight they no doubt have already made plans. They may try to stigmatize measures of supervision and control as authoritarian oppression.

Whilethe mainproblem will beontheContinent of Europe there also will be difficulties even in North America. With the fighting over and censorship lifted, one wonders to what extent freedom of expression is to be permitted on the radioof Canada and the United States. Even indefeatenemyunderground influences will beat work to create confusion and embarrass the progress of the peace settlement. The first thing to consider, therefore, is what the Germans might regard as most useful to their cause. Obviously, they will seek to create the maximum of dissension, a resurgence of isolationism and the multiplication of conflicting peace plans.

In North America where freedom of expression is so highly prized I would suggest that governments take broadcasting authorities fully into their confidence and invite them to establish common-

sense regulations based on fundamental “directives.” Specific legislation should be avoided unless there is no other alternative. Nevertheless the grim necessity of defeating enemy intrigue cannot be evaded.

Ideal System

BROADCASTING in Canada, which is publicly and privately owned, has been molded into an effective unit for war purposes. This unity should be maintained during the transition period, at least until the ratification of the peace treaties. To maintain such unity does not imply the extension of nationalization of radio. On the contrary, any disturbance of established relationship would weaken the medium as a whole and play into the hands of the wreckers.

In my opinion Canada has in its radio organization, as worked out in practice, a system ideally adapted to the needs of the country, both in war and in peace. Let it continue to be used with discretion, foresight and judgment. The privately owned stations can handle the legitimate local needs of about 75 Canadian communities. They will also lead to the ultimate creation of a second nation-wide network to provide programs which will contrast with those of the national network.

After the last war as broadcasting developed in Europe some policing of the ether became a necessity and even “natural” enemies had to work out some plan of distribution and control of the international broadcast wave band. Numerous Government conferences were held and control was finally vested in the headquarters in Geneva of the Union Internationale de Radiodiffusion, the International Broadcasting Union, which had been set up in 1925.

In some respects the UIR was the most interesting of the numerous experiments in international co-operation during the period of suspended hostilities between 1918 and 1939. Both Germany

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and the USSR were actively associated with it. An Englishman, Arthur R. Burrows, the first director of programs of the original British Broadcasting Company, became the permanent secretary. Another Englshman, Vice-Admiral Sir Charles Carpendale, became the first president ofthe UIR.

In addition to dividing the ether channels and supervising this division the UIR tried to establish what came to be known as the “code of forbearance” in the use of broadcasting. Members of the Union undertook to avoid offensive national propaganda. For some years, notably during the time of the German Republic, the Union achieved excellent results and there was ground for hope that international co-operation in radio would provide an example for co-operation in other fields.

Radio in Russia

RUSSIA HAD been first in the field with world-wide short-wave propaganda, but Germany was soon

competing, for the short-wave era of transmission coincided with the bebeginning of the Nazi regime in Germany.

In the USSR radio was looked upon as the chief means of awakening general intellectual curiosity, as a prelude to the educational campaign which in less than a generation transformed the mentality of the Russian peoples. Realizing early the impossibility of depending upon adequate radio reception through individual receiving sets, the Soviets concentrated on communal listening through loud speakers and public address systems. The USSR was rapidly covered by a multitude of transmitters. Every community hall, every Party meeting place was equipped with a loud speaker. In thebeginning no jazz music and little entertainment was permitted. Radio was an instrument of education. Without it Russia would not have been ready for the resumption of hostilities in 1941.

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setting the pace in using radio as an instrument of national policy both at home and abroad. “Direction” of radio in the authoritarian manner soon became concentrated in the “one idea” method, all-sufficient and arrogant. The anti-Jewish campaign, the doctrine of Aryan supremacy and all the other Nazi trappings became thechief concern of Nazi radio. There was, of course, a suitable adapting of the message to the particular audience. The brutality of what was said to the German people on the home service was modified in the message to the world at large.

With the impact of the short wave era of world propaganda and the Nazi regime in Germany there began to emerge the cleavage between radio on the authoritarian model and radio on the democratic model. The BBC., the other broadcasters of the British Empire, the United States networks, the radio systems of Scandinavia, Holland, Belgium and of. other democratic countries continued to use the medium primarily for general educational purposes without specific propaganda intention or bias.

It was during the thirties that the BBC developed its debates and discussions feature Leaders of thought were invited to debate freely on all the main topics of contemporary controversy. One of these discussions with which I was concerned while I was in the BBC took place early in 1934. It was an uncensored debate on general political problems by Sir Oswald Mosley, Megan Llcyd George and Bertrand Russell—Right, Middle and Left.

It so happened that representatives of the radio systems of the USSR and of Germany were present in one of the listening rooms of Broadcasting House The debate turned out to be a vigorous clash of opinion. The BBC left it to listeners to form their own conclusions. Both the German and the Russian representatives were strongly at variance with this policy and attitude.

Although they would have given diametrically opposite “direction” to the conclusions they insisted that it was better that there should be some “direction” rather than none. They both viewed with horror the confusion which they said would be created in the mind of the average listener by receiving simply a symposium of conflicting views.

That criticism was symbolic of a change which was coming over the whole of authoritarian radio as a part of “psychological mobilization” for the resumption of war. Needless to say the objections were not accepted in London. The BBC, in common with the other broadcasters of the free world, declined to follow the authoritarian example. In England today there are some misgivings as to the wisdom of this policy and attitude in the circumstances of the thirties. It should be recalled, however, that with the exception of Mr. Churchill and a

very few other leaders of thought, no one seemed aware that the peace which they thought they were enjoying was merely a period of sus! pended hostilities due to exhaustion.

The philosophical problem of | whether or not it is part of the I normal duty of a sovereign state to | give calculated direction to the ; political thought of its citizens still remains to be solved. In the world contemplated by the Atlantic Charter and the Grand Alliance of Freedom it is to be hoped that “national psychological mobilization” in peacetime, on the authoritarian model, will be outlawed. Perhaps the tentative code which was tried by the UIR in the twenties and early thirties might be renewed.

Problems Without Precedent

MANY OF the problems of radio are, of course, still new. There are no precedents to follow. Common sense is the sole criterion of judgment.

Take an example of the type of problem with which I was confronted as chief executive of the CBC at the beginning of the war. The brief week or so when the United Kingdom was at war and Canada was still at peace was a concentrated nightmare of problems. The CBC had been carrying the BBC news bulletins. There was at once a demand from certain quarters that the BBC relays should be discontinued as a violation of our neutrality; alternatively, that German bulletins in English should be carried in the name of impartiality. At the same time there was formidable pressure to organize nation-wide radio debates on whether or not Canada should enter the war.

Both demands were successfully resisted; the former on grounds of elementary common sense, and the latter for the reason that it was contrary to the national interest to permit a possible stampeding or confusing of public opinion on the eve of the meeting of Parliament called to settle the problem of war or peace. To my mind it would have savored of usurpation of constitutional privilege to anticipate, by radio, the discussions in Parliament. It is immaterial that I personally was the target for much abuse because of this stand.

The end of the war will see more new problems. In avoiding the misuse of radio, care must be taken to preserve the right of fair and competent criticism. Neither the peace proposals nor the domestic proposals of the government of the day or of any other government should be regarded as sacrosanct. The varying views of political parties, of responsible groups and of the different parts of Canada should not be smothered by arbitrary censorship. To determine the democratic course which our people have the right to demand will require not only wisdom and patience but also “horse sense” of a high order.