THE COMMONWEALTH Correspondents Association in London, England, speaking through its Canadian president, expressed itself as “shocked” and “dismayed” when the British government decided in April to abandon the “Commonwealth penny rate.” This was the subsidized rate of one penny a word for press cables from any part of the Commonwealth to any other part, maintained since 1939 at a cost to the British taxpayer, currently, of $3,000,000 a year.
We can understand the correspondents’ disappointment — especially the numerous free-lancers who are paid by the word. The commercial press rate to New York from London is 6V2 American cents a word, from Sydney or Melbourne 51/2 cents, from Hong Kong 6V2 cents. From each of these cities to Montreal or Toronto the rate has been 114 cents Canadian — now increased to 33A cents. Included among the beneficiaries of the British subsidy have been numerous American publications. No doubt they too are disappointed.
What we don’t quite understand is the shock and dismay. True, the new threepenny rate will mean higher cable tolls. True, some publications will find this extra cost a burden. But why should this upset the British taxpayer? What has he been getting for his million pounds a year?
The press in most African countries is controlled to the point of asphyxia. So it is in Pakistan. In India it’s not asphyxiated, just a bit stifled. In Cyprus it needs no guidance to be hostile. In Australia, New Zealand and Canada it treats British news according to news value, without regard to what the British taxpayer thinks — which is, of course, as it should be, but hardly calls for a subsidy.
By modern standards this modest program of external aid doesn’t deserve to be called a gravy train — soup kitchen might be a better word — but it hardly suits the vaunted dignity of newly independent Commonwealth nations. We’re happy to see it go.
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