Press rights defended

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 December, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 December, 1995, 12:00am

A DEFENCE of the right of the press to be wrong sometimes, for the best of reasons, was made yesterday by Peter Kann, chief executive of the Dow Jones Group, publisher of The Wall Street Journal.

'It is better for the press to be sometimes wrong than for political authorities to decide what was right and wrong,' Mr Kann said.

He was taking part in a conference on the development and role of the press attended by publishers from most countries in the region.

But while some of his remarks were aimed at countries which sought to control the press in a way which the West, and particularly Americans, found unacceptable, he also warned of the universal dangers of falling standards in the media.

He said that there was a danger of the lines between journalism and entertainment becoming blurred.

Journalism that put too high a priority on entertainment was almost bound to distort, and mislead, and entertainment that masqueraded as journalism was insidious because it tainted and tarnished the real thing.

There was also a blurring of lines between news and opinion, and in the US and elsewhere, that distinction seemed to be disappearing, although the newspaper format did help to preserve the differences.

A lot of magazines and television mixed news and views, he argued.

Mr Kann also warned of the spread of a fashionable philosophy that there were no basic values of right and wrong, that it was just a matter of views, and truth was in the eye of the beholder.

That was a bad philosophy for any society and it was also a dagger in the heart of genuine journalism, of seeking facts by facts and reporting the truth.

Earlier, George Yeo, Singapore's Minister for Information and the Arts told the conference that the media had to reflect the diversity of local communities.

'When the Chinese signaled their unhappiness with BBC World Television, Murdoch took it off Star Television in East Asia. In Hong Kong, as happened in Malaysia and Singapore after independence, media owners are already adjusting to a new political reality after 1997.

'Journalist and cartoonist would like to be independent but, in the end, it is the economic reality which is fundamental.' Lord Howe, a former British cabinet minister and Tory chancellor of the exchequer who chaired yesterday's session, attacked the concept that a free press was a peculiarly Western concept.

He pointed out that Asia had been faced with the need to manage wide ethnic and social differences. It had been argued by Singaporeans that it might sometimes be necessary, in the interests of racial and religious harmony, to curtail the right to free speech.

'Up to a point I can understand this, even if I can't accept all the thinking that seeks to justify such curbs.'.