Source: MECW Volume 1, p280;
Written: in mid-November 1842;
First published: in the Rheinische Zeitung No. 320, November 16, 1842;
Transcribed: in 2000 for marxists.org by Andy Blunden.
Cologne, November 15. Today’s Kölnische Zeitung carries the following royal Cabinet Order, which was sent to all provincial ministries in the course of last month:
“I have already frequently pointed out that the tendency of the bad part of the daily press to mislead public opinion on matters of general concern by disseminating untruths or distorted facts should be countered by contrasting every such false report at once with the truth through a correction of the facts published in the same newspapers that were guilty of the falsifications. It does not suffice to leave counteraction against the evil tendencies of a daily newspaper, which have a pernicious effect on the public mind, to other papers that are imbued with a better spirit and to expect it only from them. The poison of corruption must be rendered harmless in the very place where it has been dispensed; that is not only the duty of the authorities to the circle of readers to whom the poison has been proffered, it is at the same time the most effective means for destroying tendencies to deception and lying as they manifest themselves, by compelling the editors themselves to publish the judgment passed on them. I have therefore noted with displeasure that little or no use has been made so far of this means, which is as legitimate as it is essential, for curbing manifestations of degeneration on the part of the press.. Inasmuch as the present laws may not have sufficiently established the obligation of our domestic newspapers to publish without demur, and, moreover, without any comments or introductory remarks, all factual corrections officially sent them, I expect from the state ministry immediate proposals for the necessary supplementary legislation. If, however, they are already adequate for the purpose, it is My will that they should be vigorously implemented by My magistrates for the protection of law and truth, and I recommend this, not only to the ministries themselves, but in particular to the immediate attention of the Oberpräsidents, to whom the state ministry shall give directives to this end.
“The more deeply I have it at heart that the noble, loyal and commendably frank frame of mind, wherever it may be displayed, shall not find its freedom of speech curtailed, and that truth shall be as little as possible restricted in the sphere of public discussion, the more ruthlessly must the spirit that employs the weapons of lying and n-iisleading be held under restraint so that freedom of speech cannot be cheated of its fruits and its blessings by being misused.
“Sanssouci, October 14, 1842 (signed) Frederick William
We hasten the more urgently to communicate the above royal Cabinet Order to our readers, because we see in it a guarantee for the Prussian press. Every loyal newspaper can only regard it as significant support on the part of the government if untruths or distorted facts, the publication of which cannot always be avoided even with the greatest circumspection on the part of the editorial board, are corrected from an authoritative source. By these official explanations the government not only guarantees a certain historical correctness of the factual content of the daily press, but also, what is still more important, recognises the great significance of the press by positive participation, which will restrict within ever narrower bounds negative participation by prohibition, suppression and censorship. At the same time, the royal Cabinet Order presupposes a certain independence of the daily press, for if without such independence tendencies to deception, lying and pernicious tendencies are not likely to spring up and establish themselves in the daily press, still less is a noble, loyal and commendably frank frame of mind. This royal presupposition of a certain independence of the daily press should be welcomed by Prussian newspapers as the most excellent guarantee of this independence and as an unambiguous expression of the royal will.