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These damn newspapers

Photo: Gullers, KW / Nordiska museet (CC BY-NC-ND)
Torgny Segerstedt,1940. Photo: Gullers, KW / Nordiska museet (CC BY-NC-ND)

Published on 13 December 1939 in the column IDAG in Göteborgs Handels- och Sjöfartstidning (GHT).

Those damn newspapers. It's all right when they come up with outrageous information, confuse old men and cut stones. But when they tell what really happened and happen to hit the nail on the head, then they are too diabolical.

Nothing is more offensive than the truth. It should at least have so much decency that it does not appear naked. Beautifully draped, coiffed and adorned, the lady in question is not so mad. Without a thread on her body, of course, she arouses indignation. And all people with a sense of propriety are fully aware that it would be better for a millstone to be hung round her neck and she sunk into the depths of the sea than for her to offend one of these great ones.

If brute violence is in the ascendant, its manifestations should be mentioned with respect. If someone is mistreated, one should discreetly turn one's back. If a man is under, he should not be touched. Unmoved and cold, one should look for a glimpse of understanding and compassion in the face of extreme anguish. Violence can allow itself everything, but it does not love that its deeds are talked about in terms that correspond to it. Words of truth have barbs. They bite and torment. It is as if there were some poison in them, which ate its way into the strongest marrow. It provokes outbursts of rage.

Truth, in a word, never does anything but disgrace. From the dawn of time until now, she has also been frowned upon everywhere. Everyone agrees that she belongs in the thin air of abstract thought, where the great problems of life about the sex of angels and the thorns of absolutes are debated. There the truth does comparatively little harm. There, however, she seems unwilling to stay. She returns as fast as she can to the world of relativity, maintaining that she herself is relative and would therefore rather tempt the troubled existence of the ill-bred among us humans than gasp for breath in the stratosphere of ideas.

And modest as she is, she makes do with the shelter that the newspapers occasionally offer her. God knows, she enjoys no permanent employment in the columns. And when she makes her presence known in them, zealous men are ready to rush in and shut her up. This must be considered. Men must not be troubled, men must not be teased. The more troubled the circumstances, the more boldly one must go: there is no robber in this forest. And should the robber appear, a courteous and polite manner should be used to win his favour. Under no circumstances should you oppose him, or he may be disturbed in his approach.

Freedom of the press, we have been told, is a gift that must not be abused. We had thought that it was a right for which previous generations had fought hard, and which it was incumbent upon their heirs to hold fast. Freedom of the press is a good thing in quiet and idyllic circumstances. In stormy times its existence is a matter of life and death.

Photo: Gullers, KW / Nordic Museum (CC BY-NC-ND)

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