July 13, 2017

1949. Edward R. Murrow Slams HUAC's Rule Changes for Journalists

Murrow on the House Un-American Activities Committee
Edward R. Murrow at the microphone in the early 1950s (source)
From The New York Times, February 6, 1949:
Murrow Assails Ban on Radio and TV

The following are excerpts from Mr. Murrow's broadcast last Tuesday over CBS:

The House Un-American Activities Committee unanimously, without any debate, has decided to bar, from its opening hearings, all reporters other than those using pen and pencil. In future there will be no news reels, television, or direct broadcasts and no recordings. The chairman of the committee, Representative John S. Wood of Georgia, told us that, speaking purely for himself, he felt that cables, lights and other technical gear required for recording and filming tend to slow up hearings, and have the net effect of turning them into a circus.

Now, there have been many charges in the past that the House Committee on Un-American Activities has been more interested in publicity than investigation. That is a matter of opinion. But it seems to me pertinent to inquire as to whether the filming, broadcasting and televising of the committee hearings contributed to the creation of what has been called a "circus atmosphere." Did anybody fake a recording? Did television transmit any pictures that were not true pictures? Did the microphone misquote anybody? That, of course, is one of the troubles with a microphone; it is both neutral and revealing.

Access to Sight

Clearly, the House Committee on Un-American Activities will hold many closed hearings from which all reporters will be barred. That is a traditional and often useful practice, but I would maintain that a public hearing is a public hearing, and that to deny the use of microphones and cameras to deny reporters who normally use them is the equivalent of saying to newspaper reporters: You may attend the hearing, but you may not bring either pencil or pen with you.

I think that what is involved here is rather important. No question of violation of privacy arises, for these are public hearings. No issue of security is involved. There is no compulsion upon the listener or the viewer; he is entirely free not to listen or to look.

It seems to me that any action that arbitrarily limits the citizen's access to sight, sound and print, upon which opinion can be based, is, in the true sense of the phrase, un-American.