The Media – Heralds of Hope
by Bill Porter
Following six years of Army service in World War 2 in North Africa, Italy, Austria and India, William Porter took up journalism as a career. As a reporter, press officer and foreign correspondent he travelled widely in Europe, Asia, Australia North America and South Africa. On returning to London he became the chief executive of the British activities publishing of the Wolters Kluwer multinational group, vice-chairman of Publishers Databases Ltd, chairman of the Law Panel of the British Publishers Association and a national committee member of the Periodical Publishers Association. Shortly before retirement he became the founder president of the International Communications Forum, whose objective is to give to the media a positive and trusted role in society. His autobiography, Do something about it! was published in 2006.
THERE are press and radio mentions and quotations at least 36 times in Frank Buchman's published speeches before World War 2. He clearly understood the importance of mass-media communication and that it could be a positive force in the life of humanity. He also realised that it had a darker side and that light would come from enlightened media practitioners.
These he began to enlist and we read of names like Arthur Baker, leader of the British Parliamentary Press Gallery; Fredrik Ramm, editor of Norway's national daily; and Jean Martin, editor of Le Journal de Genève: and, in the forties, Peter Howard, one of Britain's outstanding journalists of the time, who later took over the mantle of Buchman's leadership, following his death in 1961. Sadly, Howard himself died in 1965, having contributed many articles, several books, and a number of plays to promote the ideas of Moral Re-Armament, as the movement was then called.
In the following period of the seventies and eighties decades, Garth Lean, writer, and Alan Thornhill, playwright, continued to take Buchman's challenge that we, the journalists, should be ‘heralds of a new world order’. That key thought merits much attention. I found it first used in a speech made by Buchman at a luncheon given by Edouard Benes, president of the Assembly of the League of Nations, at Geneva in 1935. In my Chambers Dictionary the word 'herald' is defined as ‘a person who announces important news’ and ‘someone or something that is a sign of what is to come’. Now to me it also means the presentation of totally accurate information that will help and inspire the people who receive it to build a world of peace and justice, where their physical and spiritual needs will be fully met. It means that they will choose the right persons to lead them in community and political life; live a personal life based on the highest values, and be responsible and contributory citizens. They, the heralds, will also be exposers of evil, corruption and incompetence, and warn us of violent, unfair and dead-end courses of action. So a simple phrase - ‘heralds of a new world order’- becomes a challenge for the highest standards in our professional lives, as communicators to the millions on our Earth.
In 1955 Frank Buchman made a speech of remarkable foresight and prescience in a world broadcast from America entitled The Electronics of the Spirit.
“Now electronics is a new science. Spirit has been known for a long time. It's an old science. But linked with electronics it hitches the world to a new dimension of life and thought. We can scarcely grasp what the Electronics of the Spirit means. Think of the veritable instantaneous reaction whereby a thought can travel across America in less than one-fiftieth of a second. It works with an Infinite Mind. It circles the globe instantly. It taps resources hitherto unexplored and forces hitherto unknown. Take the whole question of God's Mind and my mind. The thought that slips in any time of the day or night can be the thought of the Author of mind. We are dealing here with facts that no one can measure. These truths are readily perceived and speedily acceptable to the far-flung Moslem world, which can be a girder of unity for all civilisation.”
In the 1980s my company and our competitors were spending millions in developing electronic publishing and databases that were to widen out into the internet, whereby everyone in the world could communicate with everyone else and all of the information and knowledge in the world could be made available to us all. In the early days it was a hard sell when even lawyers, doctors and businesses had no computers. At this beginning of the 21st century their possession is widespread and to the utmost corners of the globe.
A hard interview with myself
Here I must introduce my personal contact with Frank Buchman and its eventual influence on my life as a media professional. As a demobilised young officer after six years of war service during the Second World War, I was preparing to complete a university career and to join the Birmingham Post as a reporter. Due to the influence of some fellow soldiers whom I had met during my time with the Eighth Army in Italy and the Eighth Indian Infantry Division in Asia, I was persuaded to devote my journalistic ambitions to becoming a press officer with Moral Re-Armament (MRA), as it was then known, by editing their Information Service and writing up their activities in the British coalfields and post-war France. I was also affiliated to the Press Corps at the United Nations in Geneva. In that latter capacity, along with a colleague, David Hind, later to be a director of a leading printing company, we persuaded many journalists and diplomats taking part in UN Conferences, to travel up to Caux-sur-Montreux, at the other end of Lake Geneva, to attend the MRA Conferences at Mountain House under the chairmanship of Dr Frank Buchman. As a consequence I came to meet him and earned from him the compliment of being ‘ubiquitous’- a word which sent me to consult the Oxford Dictionary.
Eventually my personal ambitions and quest for fortune led me to pursue my own path and to become a successful publisher and a leader in media associations.
In 1989 sheer chance led me to visit Caux again and, at the same time, to read in the Financial Times that ‘the communications industry in all its forms including the mass media had become the largest industry in the world’. In the ambiance of Caux, which was a vital part of the legacy of Buchman, I then asked myself the question, “If we are the largest industry, are we the most responsible?” The answer had to be NO and this led me to some introspection, being the chief executive of the British publishing activities of a multi-national, as to my personal acceptance of responsibility.
I had what might be described as a hard interview with myself. I realised that my principal motivations were to make money and to become important for myself and my companies. I am not saying that these are entirely bad motives, but they lacked that of taking responsibility for the effect of our products on those who read, listened to and watched them. I realised that if we did something that had a good social effect I was happy to take the praise. But if we had a bad effect, I washed my hands of it saying that it became a matter for politicians, religious leaders and sociologists, but not for me. So freedom of information becomes freedom from its consequences, particularly when they are bad! I decided that we in the media had to stand up and be counted for our impact.
When I told my wife, a Yugoslav heroine of Tito's wartime resistance - three years in a German concentration camp, lawyer and linguist - of my change of thinking, she listened carefully and looked me in the eyes and said, “If you’re thinking that way, why don't you do something about it?” That was a second major trigger for me and I decided to talk to some of my media peers. Four of them responded and shared my conviction that the media had been dragging people down instead of lifting them up, and that we could become a positive force in society. We decided to try to build a world-wide network of men and women in the media who believed in moral values, applied them in their own lives, and so naturally transmitted them to their audiences.
ICF has put the issue of the media on the world's agenda
Our first conference was at Caux, the scene of Frank Buchman's work for reconciliation between France and Germany and between all sides in industry, an appropriate venue to launch a positive force. This was 1991 and was followed during the next seventeen years by 26 conferences across the world from Russia to the USA, from Australia to Canada, from Poland to South Africa, from France to Jamaica; and many journeys to meet and inform our media colleagues at all levels We now have some 3,000 professionals on our mailing lists. A recent president of the World Association of Newspapers said that ‘the ICF has put the issue of the effect of the media on society on the world's agenda’. It is surely fair to ascribe this global outreach into the press, radio, television and web site providers to the legacy of Buchman and his vision that we should be heralds of a new world order.
In addition to the journalists and writers mentioned earlier, others who were certainly influenced by Buchman or his close colleagues, were John Farquharson, deputy editor of Australia's Canberra Times; Graham Turner, one of Britain's highest paid investigative journalists; Sanjoy Hazarika, for many years correspondent of the New York Times in India; Rajmohan Gandhi, the Mahatma's grandson, who was trained as a journalist with Edinburgh's The Scotsman, and was later editor of the Madras edition of the Indian Express: Geoffrey Lean, dean of British environmental correspondents; Mary Lean, author and editor of the For A Change magazine; and Mike Smith, contributor to many British and overseas newspapers. In the Arts world one could count Sven Stolpe, the Swedish author; Victor Sparre, Norwegian artist and friend of the Russian dissidents; Lennart Segerstrale, the Finnish painter; Heaton Cooper, the British Lakelands artist and Henry Cass, the London West End theatre producer.
Edouard Rosental, a foreign correspondent of Soviet Russia's Novosti press agency, who had written their ideological attack on Moral Re-Armament following a visit to the Caux Centre, responded to his own attack by writing a strong defence of MRA's ideas.
Robert Webb, a lifetime working journalist and, currently chairman of the Washington Chapter of the US Society of Professional Journalists, wrote, ‘As a Southern journalist I had been a stout defender of racial segregation in my editorials and columns, but, as I began to change through my contact with MRA, I wrote to heal rather than to hurt, to unite rather than to divide, to write not to stimulate or exploit conflict but to avert or ease it. I also tried to project a vision of white and black working together for the good of their community, state and nation. I began to reach out to African Americans in a different way, forging new friendships, and to people of all races, colours and creeds’.
In today's world the public is longing for media voices who will lift them up instead of dragging them down, for role models who will help them to become remakers of society instead of drug-addicted morons. It was a central part of Buchman's vision that journalists, writers, film producers, musicians and artists could play a major part in bringing that about.
Many scurrilous attacks
There is often a negative side to a legacy and, in the case of Frank Buchman some determined efforts were made to give it one by some sources in the media, particularly in Great Britain and Scandinavia. Tom Driberg through his regular column in the Daily Express and other channels was at the heart of many scurrilous attacks on Buchman and the work of Moral Re-Armament, particularly during the Second World War and the years after it. I quote from Chapman Pincher's book, Traitors. “The apparently devout Anglo-Catholicism of Tom Driberg is as mysterious as much else about him. He was a member of the Central Board of Finance of the Church of England. Yet he seemed to be without scruple of any kind, and betrayed anything and anybody if it suited him. Possibly he used his religion as part of his cover; as he used his Labour politics. He certainly used it to mount a sustained attack on a major target of the KGB - the Moral Re-Armament movement - claiming that it was pro-German (i.e. pro-Hitler) which was untrue. MRA, which embraces all religions, seeks to promote moral values in all societies. When the MRA founder, Dr Frank Buchman died and was buried in Allentown, Pennsylvania, many world figures attended the funeral and signed their names in the church book. A week later Driberg appeared and tore out the relevant pages.” Driberg's views were supported by the British writer, A.P. Herbert, who was also an MP, and by some journalists in the Scandinavian countries who appeared to be stung by the moral challenge of MRA.
These and other attacks added up to a serious hostile prejudice on the part of mainly London writers and publishers which was still in evidence in the sixties and seventies, when I can recall being told to keep quiet on my sympathies for the subject, if I wished to keep my job and make progress with my career.
However, at the beginning of the 21st century it can be said that this negativity is now a non-legacy, as most journalists of the day are either uninformed about MRA (Initiatives of Change) or have an open-minded attitude towards it. In fact the time is due for it to become a subject of widespread interest and a rallying challenge for a fearful and distressed world.
Inspire and enlighten the people of the creative word
Journalists in the main do not like to be labelled with an affiliation to any particular activity of an evangelical nature whether religious or secular. This is not to say that they escape certain mindsets of a negative or revelatory nature. As a consequence our media give the impression that they are mainly interested in things going wrong, in problem situations, in the foibles of pseudo-celebrities and the multitude of dangers to our health and well-being. The alternative to this bad news syndrome seems to be to stop reading, listening, viewing and looking up the internet, hardly a recipe for an effective and flourishing democracy. The International Communications Forum now led by Bernard Margueritte, a leading journalist, along with other initiatives like Reporters D'espoir in France, the Committee for Concerned Journalism in the USA, the Sorry movement in Australia and other activities are working to end this negative hold on the minds of our media professionals and to give them a sense of ethical and social purpose. One result is that in recent years many of our leading journalists and editors and producers have become vastly more self-critical and more open to receive criticism than during most of my working lifetime of the last century. This is an indication of better days to come and I believe that the influence, which the life and philosophy of Frank Buchman had on many of my and later generations in this direction, is indicative of his legacy to the world of today.
I have written of Peter Howard, certainly one of the great journalists of the 20th century, and one who paid with the sinews and brain cells of his life to help build a fair and just world. He was only 54 years old when he died of a sudden illness and I have lived 33 years more than that. He was a short-lived part of the legacy of Buchman, and his wife Doe, who died recently, told me that she felt that the ICF had taken over the torch which he carried to inspire and enlighten the people of the creative word whom he loved and served. I know myself too well to believe that I have come anywhere near that aspiration, but I will keep trying and hope that I will be doing it with you.