DEFENCE of one's own is a normal human instinct and it is natural that the press should go to town about the two imprisoned journalists. It
is worth asking, however, whether in the long run it would not have been more dignified and just as effective to spend less ink more purposefully.
The essential points are brought out in a leader in the Sunday Times which does have the merit of brevity. This says that the cases are particular examples, glaring in the arc-lights of mass publicity, of a conflict between private obligations and public duty. "Although this conflict may be an occupational hazard of journalism, it can happen to any man or woman, and the problem it presents is basically one of individual conscience rather than professional ethics. . . If from such conflicts of conscience no doctor, or policeman, or even priest is legally exempt, it is absurd to claim general relief for the journalist whose status is not definable in law nor necessarily dependent on high professional qualifications."
It is universally accepted that sound reasons of public policy normally make it expedient to refrain from pressing journalists to reveal their sources of information. The report of the Vassal tribunal will be carefully scrutinised when the Lime comes to see whether it justifies the procedure adopted. If it should fail the case for some modification of the law, especially that relating to tribunals, will be correspondingly strengthened.
The subject of protection for journalists leads by sequence of ideas to that of protection from iournalists. The Foreign Office apparently did not take the initiative in disclosing that the Russians had attempted to blackmail a member of the Embassy staff in Moscow.
The publicity given throughout the press to Mr. Rowsell's case should help the Russians a lot if they ever decide to try the same treatment again on a member of the British Foreign Service. On the face of it, Mr. Rowsell and his wife appear to have been ill-requited for their moral courage and patriotism in going straight to the Ambassador.
If it emerges-and this does not seem likely in view of Mrs. Rowsell's reported comments-that they were genuinely consenting parties to the publicity, the objection is only slightly weakened. For if the press is not willing to forego a good story in the public interest, it is on weak ground when it claims that its service of the public interest requires immunities going beyond those of the private Individual. We journalists cannot have it both ways.
Communism . .
Miss Jacquetta Hawkes has just attracted a well-merited swipe from a reader of the New Statesman, writing from the University of Exeter. In the previous issue she had confessed her inability to understand the Archbishop of Canterbury's dislike of the "atheistical air" of Russia since, as Ilugh Sellon summarises her, she herself found so much genuine morality and devotion to the public good. "What in the names of logic, religion, philosophy, semantics and even common sense, have these admittedly excellent things to do with the Archbishop's reaction to state inculcated atheism? Or does Jacquetta Hawkes believe that the Archbishop should consider that these things are more important than worshipping God? Or that their presence in Russia is a proof that the Soviet state is not officially atheistic? . . . She is obviously unable to distinguish between fundamental categories of thought."
As Belloc wrote an essay on this theme a good many years ago, Mr. Sellon may be wrong in thinking this a purely modern weakness. While we are about it, it is worth reflecting that by the standards of their time and place the pharisees were as moral a crew as any Miss Hawkes is likely to have found in Russia. That is not, of course, to deny that the modern Russians are probably more attractive personalities.
. and Communists While on the subject of Moscow, it is hard not to sympathise with the point made in the Daily Herald, under the appropriate heading "A Fantastic Song and Dance".
"Pssst ... ever been to a Russian film? Shsh . . Did you see the Cossack dancers at the Albert Hall or watch the Russian circus on TV? You did? Weren't you scared? Didn't you feel that your way of life was being subverted? That your internal affairs were being interfered with? No? Well, you must he sane. Saner than the Foreign Office who rushed in to stop members of the Soviet Army song and dance ensemble from appearing tomorrow at a rally of the Daily Worker." It is perhaps a little hard on the Foreign Office that this was the very week in which the Holy Father granted an audience to Mr. K's daughter and son-in-law and even conveyed an indirect blessing to Mr. K. The Foreign Office and the Vatican are in such different positions that one could not have been surprised had it been the Foreign Office that showed the more relaxed spirit.