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Freedom of the press and self-censorship

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

"The freedom of the press is always a thorn in the side of those who wish to deal with the fate of the people as they see fit."

When Austria disappeared from the Free States, the Swiss press drew attention to the fatal role played by the press censorship which prevailed in Austria. The people had not been informed of conditions in other countries. Therefore, they reluctantly gave in.

In Czechoslovakia, the press was also required to exercise restraint. It was instructed not to provoke its neighbours with unreserved criticism. It cannot be said that this caution saved the country.

The freedom of the press is always a thorn in the side of those who wish to deal with the fate of the people as they see fit. Nowadays, when public opinion is not bound by political boundaries, all those who see in the freedom of thought and word an enemy to their aspirations try to silence free speech as far as they can, even beyond the borders of their country. The tactic is always the same. It is made clear that not only every unprincipled word, but every kind of criticism, hurts those who are affected by it. In particular, of course, it is stressed that those who do not allow themselves to be silenced are harming the economic interests of their country. Although the least thought must say that criticism of a political system has not the slightest influence on business relations between two countries, since business is done and must be done exclusively according to economic considerations, the statement is repeated again and again. Here, as in all dishonest propaganda, reliance is placed on general thoughtlessness. If an assertion is repeated often enough, it is accepted by those who, in opinion, go with the flow. And there are always those who are at hand to obtain the warning of the person concerned on the spot and to pass it on to the public.

What is not gagged and silenced is the propaganda which is meanwhile being carried on by the country whose own press is the mouthpiece of those in power. Both in Austria and in Czechoslovakia - not to speak of Spain - the invasion was prepared for by an undermining work carried on with abundant funds. The fruits of this were reaped in due course. How is this attack being countered in our country?

Public opinion, as has already been said, is nowadays not bound within national boundaries. There is, thanks to the modern technology of co-operation, a general world opinion. Every country and every mouthpiece of opinion makes its contribution to this world opinion. If criticism is silenced in country after country, the field is left open to those who have reason to hate and fear the truth. Anyone who fails to do so contributes to the darkness in which violence can have free rein.

There is a lot of talk about responsibility. This responsibility is talked about as if begging were the sign of the deepest sense of responsibility. However, everyone is responsible not only for what he utters, but equally for what he conceals. The silence that serves lies and violence is despicable. The old stanza

"He who knows the truth and speaks it not, is a wretched wretch indeed"

is applicable here as well. It must be added, however, that in the present case there is far greater and more important than the honour of a private individual at stake. The public opinion, which determines the cultivation of the West, is at stake.

When Swedish printed newspapers do the bidding of foreign propaganda ministries to silence the free speech that interferes with their activities, everyone understands what time it is. The air is already heavy to breathe. It sometimes feels as if one were suffocating. Should cowardice and stupidity be allowed to freely pollute the atmosphere of the whole of Europe?

More than the lives and happiness of individuals is at stake here. It is about the only sacred thing there is, the human thing. It cannot carry the breath of freedom. Anyone who escapes the threat is a fugitive in this battle for the defence of Western culture. He betrays all those who with heavy sacrifice have created our culture, scientists and thinkers, the men who have broken the ground and cleared the fields, those who have fallen on the battlefields, all, all, who have given their strength, their innermost, their lives for that freedom without which nothing of the spirit comes into being.

The sense of responsibility does not only apply to every word that is uttered. It is also directed to every word that is left unspoken.

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