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The Political Situation. Schreiner, Olive, 1855–1920.
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page: 122
page: 123

USE THE PRESS.

The great strength of such a party as the Progressive Party of South Africa must be would lie in the superior intellectual enlightenment of its members. I take it that it is not likely any large body of men will join such an organisation who have not the intelligence and culture which would enable them to think somewhat deeply upon social matters. I believe we should largely represent the thinking element in the community, whether our members were drawn from the labouring or wealthier class.

Such a body, with no narrow page: 124 personal ends to seek, will naturally desire the largest publicity for its views, and will also have the power of expressing them. Of such a party the main weapon is the Press. It will find one of its chief duties for many years in constantly raising and animating public discussion upon all questions, social and political, as they arise, and in unflinchingly enunciating its own views, and calling forth the enunciation of those of others—a function of paramount importance in a country where men often, even in private conversation, fear to speak above their breath, lest a bird of the air should carry it.

page: 125

We shall make rich use of all the public journals in the country. But if the Progressive Party is to become a power which shall make itself felt, I believe its most powerful weapon must be the possession of a journal devoted entirely to its principles.

With a very few exceptions there is a generous attitude maintained in Colonial papers, and their columns are freely open to correspondents. We are rich in able and liberal editors, and our Press in many ways is in advance of other Colonial institutions. But the fact, which all who have been behind the scenes of Press life page: 126 in this country are aware of (and of which the public appears not to be aware!), is that no editor, however able and advanced, has, as a rule, an absolute control over his paper. In the vast majority of cases in the Colony, as in England, the newspaper is a property held by a larger or smaller number of shareholders; it is finally theirs, and should the editor himself be a large shareholder, he has yet not always an independent and free hand. A certain amount of liberty is granted him, and he may imagine himself independent; but when crucial commercial or political questions arise, at the page: 127 very moment when he would most desire to stand firm, and unqualifiedly to express his own views, those persons with whom the real and ultimate control rests may step in; and whether simply fearing that the commercial value of the paper may decline if an unpopular course be persisted in; or, immeasurably worse still, actuated by personal motives, may desire to use the paper for their own commercial or political benefit—then he may be required to alter his tone or remain silent.

No knowledge of the high principle and personal integrity of an editor can give the public assurance that personal influ- influences page: 128 ences may not be compelling him to modify his course. He is often but an able and highly accredited agent; and he may, under these circumstances, conscientiously feel that he is not justified in pursuing a course which would result in commercial loss to those whose property he manages. He may throw up his control (which is often impossible), or he must remain silent. Men who would be incorruptible before any conceivable species of bribe might, nay, almost must, be amenable to this pressure of circumstances and obligations.

If a paper is to represent undeviatingly and sincerely a page: 129 certain body of opinions, it is absolutely necessary either that it should be completely under the control of one man who is wholly devoted to the body of principles to be maintained, or it must be the property of an organisation representing these principles. Even in this case, were the shares held by members of the organisation, it would be necessary for them to safeguard themselves from the possibility of individual shareholders being induced to sell their shares to the persons, or emissaries of the persons, who would be interested in vitiating the standpoint of the paper.

It would be necessary to make page: 130 it impossible for any shareholder to dispose of a share without the consent of either the Executive Committee of the Organisation, or of all other shareholders, and for any individual shareholder to possess more than a certain limited number of shares. It would then be open only to the personal corruption of individual shareholders,—a contingency against which no foresight or caution can avail, but of which there would be little danger were the original shareholders carefully selected.

A paper safeguarded through one or other of these conditions is, I believe, absolutely essential page: 131 to the real success of a Progressive Organisation. Such a paper the Progressive Element in South Africa possessed when Saul Solomon had absolute control of the Cape Argus; and such a paper must yet be the rallying point of the Progressive Party in this country.

The third method by which the association could impress itself upon the country would be by the share it would take in political life.

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