Mussolini, Press Censorship and Contempt for Newspaper Readers

Mussolini Pic

Mussolini before becoming the Duce, Italy’s Fascist dictator, had been a newspaper editor. Denis Mack Smith in his biography, Mussolini (London: Paladin 1983) describes both his style of journalism and his contempt for newspaper readers, which he used to justify stifling the freedom of the press.

The new premier was exceptional in having made his name as a newspaper editor and journalism continued to be one of his great passions. He was probably the best popular journalist of his day, and his ability to simply and vulgarize issues, to disregard consistency where necessary – in his own words, to over-dramatize or even invent facts – all these early lessons greatly helped to him effective in the kind of populist politics he was drawn to instinctively. They made him a successful politician, if a bad statesman.

He now decided to change the rules of journalism so that no one else could succeed as he had done. While in opposition, he had condemned censorship of newspapers as shameful and dangerous, and his pledge to maintain freedom of the press received unanimous support in the first fascist party congress; but as a dictator he seized on the fact that anyone who could manipulate the press might be able to change public opinion overnight, and even before the march on Rome he had prepared measures to control the newspapers. Here was the main novelty of Mussolini’s revolution and one of the principal reasons for his success. His sort of fascism could never have appeared before the days of popular journalism; nor in all probably could it have happened later, once Italy became a more literate and politically more sophisticated society. (pp. 78-9).

Censorship was something Mussolini had once condemned outright and some of his associates still disliked it. But once he was in power he meant to control journalism. Newspaper readers were gullible and impotent; he owed them no respect but claimed he had a duty to protect them from irresponsible editors whose lies were discrediting Italy abroad. Suddenly on 20th June 1925, late in the evening, he caught parliament unawares and proposed new press laws. All was over in half an hour with no debate and only five dissentient votes; parliament was then closed until the end of the year. (p. 105).

Mike once quoted Lord Beaverbrook to me as an illustration of the conscious bias of the press: ‘I print nothing but propaganda, propaganda and propaganda’. Members of Blair’s cabinet have said that during his administration he always trying to formulate policies that would gain the support of the press barons, such as Paul Dacre, the editor of the Daily Mail; and that Rupert Murdoch was a constant, silent presence over the cabinet meetings. And Murdoch’s attitude to his newspapers – the Sun, News of the World and the Times indicates to me that he had a similar contempt for his readers, cynically manipulating the news to sale papers and push through his right-wing policies. And the Tories were perfectly willing to violate the press monopoly laws in order to give him the papers and journalistic influence he wanted. He operates in a democratic system, but there’s still much of Mussolini’s attitude to politics, the press and its readers in his style of journalism and management.

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One Response to “Mussolini, Press Censorship and Contempt for Newspaper Readers”

  1. Mike Sivier Says:

    Reblogged this on Vox Political.

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