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Toby Terrar, "A Justification Based on Women's Press Freedom and the New World Information Order for Defending the National Endowment for the Arts but not Pornography.” This article originally appeared in National Lawyers Guild Practitioner, vol. 47 (1990), pp. 82-94.
This essay gives a justification based on women's press freedom and, more generally, on the freedom of the labor and socialist press, for a strategy of defending the continued existence of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), while rejecting a defense of pornography. It focuses not only on the recent government censorship of the NEA but on the long-standing censorship conducted by the commercial and, specifically, the pornographic press.
The essay first contrasts the capitalist and democratic views on press freedom. This leads to a discussion of women's press freedom in relation to the New World Information Order (NWIO), the International Principles of Professional Ethics in Journalism, and the history of press freedom. The point of the examination is to show that pornography is censorship. It censors the truth that women are not commodities to be used by the commercial press for making a profit. It censors working class men from learning about and uniting with women against their common enemy, the capitalist system.
The strategy advocated in this essay is that while it is both possible and necessary for democratic forces to make coalitions with the commercial press, it is the democratic forces that should set the standards of press freedom, not the pornographic arm of the commercial press. The propaganda of pornography is an enemy of press freedom and the government efforts against it are part of the people's right to defend their free press and other rights. In fighting for the continued existence of the NEA, the idea is to do more than defend the existing order; the strategy is to make this an opportunity to teach about and work for a decrease in censorship and monopoly by the commercial press.
At times a sound strategy demands defending the existing order because the likelihood is that with any change the democratic forces will lose rather than gain ground. But here a strategy of upholding the existing order and in particular of upholding the pornographic arm of the commercial press, weakens the defense of the NEA.
CAPITALIST AND DEMOCRATIC VIEWS OF PRESS FREEDOM. This essay takes issue with a New York Times piece by Martin Garbus of Apr. 28, 1990 and a People's Daily World piece by Tom Foley of May 22, 1990. These two writers take the position that government censorship of the commercial press and the NEA is to be rejected.
This position follows the approach of the 1952 U.N. Economic and Social Council, Draft International Code of Ethics. Article V of the Draft Code outlawed government censorship of the press:
This code is based on the principle that the responsibility for ensuring the faithful observance of professional ethics rests upon those who are engaged in the profession, and not upon any government. Nothing herein may therefore be interpreted as implying any justification for intervention by a government in any manner whatsoever to enforce observance of moral obligations set forth in this code.
The article V "no government interference" doctrine was the work of and represented the ethics of the commercial press and of the capitalist governments under their control. It did not reflect the views of many working journalists and their trade unions. The article V ethic was part of the anti-popular government campaign of the 1950s. The Code never got beyond being a draft because it was opposed by the journalist organizations of the socialist and developing nations.
The 1951 statement of Elisha Hanson, counsel to the American Publishers Association was typical in condemning the socialist and developing nations for seeking legislation against the propaganda of racism, sexism, apartheid, war-mongering, genocide, and slavery:
These measures are the ultimate in hostile actions against the right of American people to enjoy freedom of speech and to have a free press.
Similar attacks were made by the American Bar Association leaders Francis Holman, chair of its committee on international law, and William Fleming, who wrote:
We should be eternally vigilant against attempts to check the expression of opinion that we loathe and believe to be fraught with death.
For Garbus and Foley, as for Hanson and Fleming in the 1950s, the safety of press freedom lies in a popular coalition, which includes the commercial press and its pornographic arm. For Garbus and Foley the current enemy is symbolized by Senator Jesse Helms, who led in passing the sexual censorship amendment to the NEA. The amendment forbids the NEA to issue grants to promote works that contain "depictions of sado-masochism, homoeroticism, the sexual exploitation of children or individuals engaged in sex acts and which, when taken as a whole, do not have serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific merit." Since Oct. 1989, applicants have been required to sign the above oath.
The NEA amendment is seen by Garbus and Foley as ultra-rightist police destruction of popular press freedom and other rights. In their view the attack on the pornography press is the first domino to fall. In line to be pushed over next will be the rights of the trade union, socialist, and other popular presses.
This advocacy of a coalition with the commercial press minimizes that the reason the Peoples Daily World and the labor presses are always on hard times and that the masses are defacto censored from reading them, is not from government interference but from lack of government help. In socialist nations, the government makes possible the working class press. In the U.S. the government and laws help make possible the commercial press and corporate-advertiser monopoly on the media.
Corporation laws shield shareholders from personal financial liability and allow them to raise and preserve capital. Through inheritance laws, the government allows them to pass media ownership to their heirs. The commercial press and corporate-advertiser are helped through newspaper mailing privileges and postal subsidies. The monopoly press would go out of business but for court regulated contracts, finance, labor, copyright, and banking laws, and the awarding of compensation for tortious acts. Government regulations provide for police, fire, military, and sanitation services, which preserve press property from theft, fire, and foreign invasion.
What the commercial press, backed up by monopolistic legislation, does to popular press freedom is no less political rightist destruction than that represented by Jesse Helms. Both the commercial press and Jesse Helms are enemies. Because the commercial press destruction of the labor and socialist press is long-standing and pervasive, it might be concluded that this is not censorship. The only issue for those who incorrectly overlook the accomplished censorship of the commercial system, is the potential destruction of the skelton labor and socialist press by rightest government attack.
It is possible and necessary for popular forces to join coalitions with their enemies. When joining coalitions, the question is, which enemy takes a correct stand on the issue in question. The Israeli Communist party is an example of a coalition builder. It has been successful in having some of its people elected to office and some of its program enacted. Meir Vilner, General Secretary of the party, commented about coalition building:
The Communist party of Israel maintains that there is no progressive Zionism, nor can there be. In Israel some Zionists and Zionist groups, while identifying themselves with Zionist ideology, take a correct stand on certain socio-political problems. That is why our party has always considered cooperation with them on specific social and political issues to be both possible and necessary.
NWIO AND WOMEN'S PRESS FREEDOM. To answer the question, "which enemy takes a correct stand on the issue of press freedom," the international democratic movement provides insight. The program which the developing and socialist nations follow is the New World Information Order (NWIO). Trade unions of journalists and regional journalist organizations throughout the world at a series of consultative meetings between 1978 and 1983 under UNESCO auspices, codified the NWIO into the International Principles of Professional Ethics in Journalism. Among the journalist trade unions which participated in the codification were the Latin-American Federation of Press Workers, the Federation of Arab Journalists, the Union of African Journalists, the Confederation of Asian Journalists, the International Organization of Journalists, the International Federation of Journalists, and the International Catholic Union of the Press.
The NWIO and the International Principles are directed against the commercial press, corporate advertisers, and their news agencies, not government interference. This is because their experience is that the commercial press is the apparatus for organizing censored information that meets the political, military, and economic interests of the multinational corporations. The NWIO sees government as an ally against commercial censorship and seeks to strengthen government news agencies and has established a federation of state news agencies that are not dependent on the private sector for its news sources.
The International Principles reflect the experience of the 400,000 working journalists and their organizations in some 140 nations who adopted the principles in 1983. Their ideal is for the press to be a full constructive element in national and international programs of education, family planning, agriculture and industrialization, and the eradication of illiteracy, poverty, exploitation, unemployment, and war-mongering, which are the enemies of press freedom. They condemn freedom for commercial press censorship. Such commercial censorship subverts the press and other rights by directing popular attention away from and covering over acute social and political problems by disseminating racism, national hatred and chauvinism, and by dealing in sensationalism, pornography, scandal, and compromising "facts" from the lives of famous people.
The pornographic press does more than cover up the constructive role of the press, as the commercial press does generally. The pornographic press also engages in a unique anti-woman form of censorship. It suppresses the truth that women are not commodities by which the commercial press can make a profit. In the anti-capitalist terms of Principle III of the International Principles, it is a violation of international press ethics to turn women into a commodity: "Information in journalism is understood as social good and not as a commodity."
The capitalist commodization of women, like its commodization of everything that is human, subordinates and dehumanizes. It is the way the capitalist class keeps the people back economically, politically, and socially, in order to make profit from their labor. Catharine MacKinnon has studies how such dehumanization results in the censorship of U.S. women's press freedom. She concludes, like the International Principles, that the commercial press, not the government, is the main enemy:
Whole segments of the population are systematically silenced socially, prior to government action. For women, the urgent issue of freedom of speech is not primarily the avoidance of state intervention as such, but finding an affirmative means to get access to speech for those to whom it has been denied.
Andrea Dworkin has remarked about the U.S. commodization of women by Playboy magazine, "The use of women in Playboy is part of how Playboy helps to create second-class status for women. Women in Playboy are dehumanized by being used as sexual objects and commodities, their bodies fetishized and sold. The term `bunny' is used to characterize the woman as less than human, like animals that want sex all the time, animals that are kept in hutches."
WOMEN'S PRESS FREEDOM IN U.S. HISTORY. The press freedom of women, as well as that of labor and socialists, as reflected in the International Principles, makes no exception for journalists working in the belly of the beast. Historically, democratic forces in the U.S. have expanded press freedom by mobilizing the government against the commercial monopoly and its censorship.
The writings of Jane Grey Swisshelm (1815-1884) and Lydia Maria Child (1802-1880) are illustrative of the free press philosophy of many women in the pre-Civil War period. Both were abolitionists, feminists, and professional journalists. They called upon the people to crush through their government the Democratic party's press freedom to apologize for the kidnapping, murdering, marketing, raping, and beating of Black women and children that was part of slavery. They noted the obvious: government interference against the copperhead press in the Civil War was basic to expanding the press freedom of Black women.
After the Civil War the struggle against the sexist press was helped by newspapers like The Revolution. Founded by Susan B. Anthony and edited by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Parker Pillsbury. It taught that women's press freedom was tied to making government work for the economic, political, and moral freedom of society as a whole. As the organ of the Women's National Suffrage Association of American and the National Party of North America, it looked to the women's vote and their participation in government to obtain government help for the feminist, labor, and anti-racist press.
In the early early 20th century, government "interference" was similarly not the measure of women's press freedom. The women's press, as the study by Maxine Seller points out, demanded suffrage so that government could be mobilized to work for, instead of against the women's press and other rights. It held up for praise the progress made by the women's press in the Soviet Union as a result of government measures against the commercial press and against propaganda detrimental to economic and political justice for women. One also reads in the early 20th century women's press of admiration for the women's campaign in India against the colonial press and in England, France, and Italy against the commercial press's opposition to women's suffrage.
The defense of democratic press freedom as opposed to commercial press freedom was likewise the position of the American Civil Liberties Union, which grew out of the popular World War I anti-war movement. Roger Baldwin at the ACLU's foundation in 1919 and while in prison for using the press to oppose a capitalist war, rejected affiliation with Theodore Schroeder's Free Speech League. The League was financed by commercial interests to oppose local government regulation of liquor, tobacco, pornography, medical doctors, beach-wear, and compulsory vaccination.
Baldwin's principled view of press freedom had nothing to do with so called "libertarian" issues, as he stated to Schroeder:
I don't believe that we will want to consider inviting organizations which deal with these personal liberties. They are not an issue before the country just now, and are hardly involved in the wider political question which we are discussing.
Schroeder in the 1920s, Morris Ernst during the McCarthy period, and Martin Garbus currently, were and are attorneys for the pornographic press. Not the pornographic position on press freedom, but the class conscious position remained the ACLU philosophy until the organization came under the domination of commercial interests during the McCarthy period.
These commercial interests, such as Playboy, which was established in 1953, are part of the cold war censorship that work to divide working class along sexist lines. These interests censor working class men from learning about and uniting with women against the capitalist class. Andrea Dworkin has studied how so called "libertarian" philosophy is the defense of the established order against those seeking an end to censorship:
The ACLU's stated commitment is to protect the Bill of Rights, the first 10 amendments to the Constitution, not pornography as such, though it's hard to tell sometimes. Without a commitment to real equality of the same magnitude as its commitment to those first 10 amendments, the ACLU defends power, not rights. No matter how notorious the exploitation, as for instance in child pornography, the ACLU ends up substantively defending those who exploit the powerless.
The ACLU defends the power of corporations who own and control the means of speech against the aspiration of dissidents who have been excluded from the circle of protected speech by race and sex.
The democratic approach to press freedom embodied in the International Principles and the early ACLU is also the tradition followed by the American Newspaper Guild, which was established in 1934. The Guild and its code of ethics for journalists was and is a class conscious, anti-sexist, trade union movement. Capitalist ownership was and is seen by the Guild to be the main limitation on press freedom. Journalists were and are required by the Guild's code to refuse "by destruction and suppression to create political, economic, industrial, and military wars."
Most sectors of the commercial press are in agreement with the democratic forces that have enacted and long supported various types of government press censorship. Ever since the adoption of the U.S. Constitution, there has been no freedom for incitement to criminal acts, for defamation, injurious falsehoods, treason or contempt of court. Such censorship does not inhibit press freedom. For self-defense in wartime and emergency, the suppression of normal press freedom is allowed. Constitutionally valid laws forbid the publication of racist and anti-semitic ideas, as in newspaper ads ("only whites need apply," "churches nearby"), the disclosure of matters which must remain state secrets (some 80 U.S. federal statutes authorize secrecy and censorship), disclosure of income tax and social security returns and similar activity. Schools and universities are state-owned and regulated, with a specific mandate against the teaching of racism. Since 1934 the people have licensed and regulated radio and television air waves to serve the public interest. The U.S. is a party to international agreements (Potsdam, 1945), which require the suppression of the Nazi press and symbols.
There is no lack of government censorship in the U.S. Such censorship helps protect, not inhibit press freedom. Democratic forces do not fear, complain against, or even consider such activity as censorship. The people have a strong tradition of using government censorship to promote press freedom. There is also, as noted earlier, an anti-democratic tradition promoted by capitalist forces to monopolize and censor press freedom. Popular forces in the U.S. have not in the past promoted press freedom for the sake of press freedom, but for the sake of the people. The philosophy of press freedom for its own sake, like art for arts sake, or the free market for its own sake, boils down to freedom for the monopolist to profit at the expense of the people.
CONCLUSION. This essay has advocated a strategy of defending the continued existence of the NEA while supporting government censorship of pornography. The justification of this is women's press freedom, and more generally the freedom of the labor and democratic press. Women are half the democratic press. The attack of the pornographic press on women and their rights, including press freedom, is an attack on the press freedom of laboring people. Democratic press freedom is not the next domino to be attacked, it has long been under attack. Perhaps because the attack is so pervasive, some lose sight of this.
The International Principles, and the history of women's press freedom give a reminder of which domino is being being attacked. The NWIO and the International Principles are the commonly accepted norms of journalism in most of the world. They are not extremist or utopian and have been a part of U.S. history. They teach that the commercial press and its pornographic wing, just as much as Jesse Helms, is the enemy of press freedom. A coalition with the commercial press in defense of press freedom is possible and necessary. But support for the coalition must not be uncritical or a mere affirmation of the existing order. The commercial press must not be allowed to set the pornographic press as a fetish and dictate the standards of press freedom. The coalition must be based on the correct position, not on censorship.
Perhaps Tom Foley is correct in his strategy. This may be a period in which the best course is to defend the established press order. But the possibility of an alternate position should at least be considered. Roger Baldwin is a hero of American press freedom. When the rightwing had him in jail in 1919, he felt the truth was strong enough that no coalition with the commercial press was necessary. The possibility that Baldwin was right ought at least to be considered.
U.N. Economic and Social Council, Draft International Code of Ethics, Resolution 442B (XIV), 1952, reprinted in Edward Plowman, International Law Governing Communication and Information: A Collection of Basic Documents (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1982), pp. 181-183.
Elisha Hanson, "Freedom of the Press, Is It Threatened in the U.N.?" American Bar Association Journal, 37 (June 1951), 417.
William Fleming, "Danger to America: The Draft Covenant on Human Rights," American Bar Association Journal, 37 (Nov. 1951), 819; see also, Toby Terrar, "UNESCO's New World Information Order and U.S. Free Press Philosophy," International Review of Contemporary Law, vol. 31 (no. 2, Brussels: 1984), p. 78.
The Soviet press is illustrative of those whose daily circulation outstrip that of the U.S.: 116 million Soviet copies (422 per 1000 population) to 63 million U.S. copies (268 per 1000 population). See UNESCO, Statistical Yearbook (Paris: Unesco, 1988), p. 7.17. The commercial press is not as competitive in competition for readership and popular support, because it is not responsive to popular needs, but to those of advertisers. In socialist and some of the developing nations, up to half of newspaper space is made available for citizen journalists, rather than for advertisers. See Toby Terrar, "Soviet Writings on Press Freedom: A Descriptive Bibliography," Studies in Soviet Thought, 28 (1984), 212.
Meir Vilner, "The Struggle against Zionism in a Class Society," World Marxist Review, 19 (Jan. 1976), p. 73.
International Principles of Professional Ethics in Journalism (4th ed., Prague: International Organization of Journalists, 1988), reprinted in Kaarle Nordenstreng, et al, New International Information and Communication Order Source Book (Prague: International Organization of Journalists, 1986), document # 72, pp. 371-373.
Margaret Gallagher, "Women and NWICO," in Communication for All: New World Information and Communication Order (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Pub., 1985), pp. 41-43.
Catharine MacKinnon, "Not a Moral Issue," Yale Law and Policy Review, 2 (Spring 1984), p. 340. See also, Alan Soble, "Pornography, Defamation and the Endorsement of Degradation," Social Theory and Practice, 11 (1985), 61-87; William E. Brigman, "Pornography and Group Libel: The Indianapolis Sex Discrimination Ordinance," Indiana Law Review, 18 (1985), 479-505; Thomas McWatters, "An Attempt to Regulate Pornography Through Civil Rights Legislation: Is It Constitutional?" University of Toledo Law Review, 16 (Fall 1984), 231-313.
Madelen Schilpp, Great Women of the Press (Carbondale, Ill.: Southern Illinois University Press, 1983), pp. 74-84.
The Revolution appeared weekly in New York from Jan. 8, 1868 to 1871. It had subscribers from throughout the U.S. and Europe. The paper's title, according to one source, was from an article entitled "Bogus Associated Press Cable Dispatches: Truth and Fairdealing Would be Revolution." See Morris U. Schappes, The Daily Worker: Heir to the Great Tradition (New York: Daily Worker Press, 1944), p. 13.
Maxine Seller, "The Women's Interest Page of the Jewish Daily Forward: Socialism, Feminism and Americanization in 1919," The Press of Labor Migrants in Europe and North America, ed. Christiane Harzig (Bremen: Labor Newspaper Preservation Project, 1985), pp. 221-242.
Roger Baldwin, ACLU Papers, microfilm 1, New York Public Library, quoted in Paul L. Murphy, The Meaning of Freedom of Speech (1972), p. 31.
Since the 1950s the ACLU have received funding from the Playboy Foundation and similar fronts of the pornographic press. Andrea Dworkin and Catharine MacKinnon, Pornography and Civil Rights: A New Day for Women's Equality (Minneapolis: Organizing Against Pornography, 1988), p. 8, describe such funding:
The ACLU has taken money for a long time from the pornographers. Some money has been raised by showning pornography. The ACLU's economic ties with the pornographers take many different forms, ranging from taking money from the Playboy Foundation to being housed for a nominal rent ($1 per year) in a building owned by pornographers. Sometimes lawyers represent the ACLU in public debate and as individuals work for pornographers in private. Their personal incomes, then, are largely dependent on being retained by the pornographers.
The McCarthy ACLU and similar defenders of anti-women censorship under the cover of the pornographic press's theory of the First Amendment has been criticized by Catharine MacKinnon, "Not a Moral Issue," pp. 336-337:
First Amendment theory, like virtually all liberal legal theory, presumes the validity of the distinction between public and private. . . Censorship restricts society to partial truths. So why are we now - with more pornography available than ever before - buried in all these lies? Laissez faire might be an adequate theory of the social preconditions for knowledge in a nonhierarchical society. But in a society of gender inequality the speech of the powerful impresses its views upon the world, concealing the truth of powerlessness under that despairing acquiescence which provides the appearance of consent and makes protest inaudible as well as rare. . .
Liberalism has never understood that the free speech of men silences the free speech of women. It is the same social goal, just other people. This is what a real inequality, a real conflict, a real disparity in social power looks like. The law of the First Amendment comprehends that freedom of expression, in the abstract, is a system but fails to comprehend that sexism (and racism), in the concrete, are also system.
Andrea Dworkin, Pornography and Civil Rights, p. 86.
Daniel Leab, A Union of Individuals: The Formation of the American Newspapers Guild (New York: Columbia University Press, 1970), p. 132.
Beauharnais v. Illinois, 343 U.S. 250 (1952).
The U.S. at Nuremberg helped execute Nazis like Julius Streicher. Although he took no administrative or military part in the war crimes, Streicher's anti-semitic propaganda was judged to have "incited murder and extermination." See Quincy Wright, "The Crime of `War-Mongering,'" American Journal of International Law, 42 (Jan. 1948), 133. The prosecution emphasized that Nazi propaganda for racism, anti-semitism, and warmongering was not successfully countered merely by the supposed free exchange of ideas. As Herbert Aptheker, "Racism, Fascism, and Human Rights," in Racism, Imperialism, and Peace: Selected Essays, ed. Marvin Berlowitz (Minneapolis: MEP Press, 1987), p. 164, puts it, it took some 50 million, mainly working-class, lives to put down Nazi ideas.
The U.S. legislation under which the Nazi propaganda was suppressed is still part of the law. United States Army Field Manual: The Law of Land Warfare (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Dept. of Defense, FM 27-10, July 18, 1956) chapter 6, section II, paragraph 377, reads in part:
The belligerent occupant may establish censorship of the press, radio, theater, and motion pictures, of correspondence, and of all other means of communication. It may prohibit entirely the publication of newspapers or prescribe regulations for their publication and circulation.