Conversely, the more developed countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom have shown an attitude reflecting their concern for both preservation of their hard-won liberties and the possibility of abuse of the concept of responsibility.
These countries see no useful purpose in ratifying international conventions on freedom of information laying down standards which they consider, in many instances, to be below levels they themselves have already attained. Some of them go so far as to express the fear that the levels they have reached would in fact be endangered by such ratification.
A concise account of what the United Nations has done or has not been able to do to promote freedom of information has been narrated by Prof. Michael Ta Kung Wei in his book “Freedom of Information as an International Problem”, published by University of Missouri, Columbia.
He says, although the efforts of the United Nations to promote freedom of information do not seem satisfactory to many, and despite the fact that the long debates among nations seem hopelessly deadlocked in each session, it appears to him that the work undertaken with respect to freedom of information is important and significant, and will contribute to the continuing work of promoting freedom of information in the future. To justify this statement, he points out the following facts which are vital to any further development of freedom of information:
1. In the classic or historic sense, the traditional term “freedom of press” means freedom from government control. The struggle for this very freedom is as long as the history of the press itself. Not before the end of the nineteenth century the principles of press freedom had been accepted over the world. It may be said that with a few exceptions, there now exists a common legal standard with regard to the freedom of the press which includes the following principles:
(a) The prohibition of government interference with the press in the form of censorship and similar previous restraints;
(b) The principle that any restrictions on press freedom must be applied or subject to review by the courts, and that courts alone have the right of imposing penalties.
It seems clear, although the process is slow, the press has scored a major victory on the national level in the past four hundred years. It is important to point out that the United Nations has only considered this problem for less than 30 years. Furthermore, the question of freedom of information with which the United Nations just deal is far more complicated than the traditional sense of “freedom of the press”, because it seeks an agreement at the international level.
As a result of modern technology, the United Nations must also adopt the new communications techniques such as wire services, radio and television. So long as the members of the U. N. agree that freedom of information is a fundamental human right, and as long as there exists a common legal standard, freedom of information, in most nations (stated above) the reaching of the freedom of information goal within the United Nations is only a matter of time.
2. Although delegates disagreed on how to draft conventions on freedom of information, they did agree that there is no urgent need to consider the problem.
They knew from the past experience of World War II that Nazism and Fascism had been able to mislead and dominate millions of people as much by the power of the word as by the power of the sword.
They observed that wherever the dictators seized authority in any country, they proceeded to control the information media. The delegates were also aware that in the modern world, total isolation is impossible. Each country must to some extent cooperate with other countries for such things as tariffs, visas, and exchanges of currency. Since governments must deal with the problems and since the United Nations is composed of most of these governments, there is no better place than the United Nations for them to reach both short-term and long-term agreements on these matters. The same holds true with regard to freedom of information.
3. While accepting the reality of the obstacles of cold war and conflicting ideologies one should not, nevertheless, accept the notion that the United Nations should suspend its efforts to promote freedom of information. It must be remembered that this is the first time in history that international powers have ever had an opportunity to express their views with regard to this problem.
In view of the fact that the cold war might run its course, and therefore, ideologies would be more companionable, continued study of this problem is necessary. The possibility exists that freedom of information could some day be dealt with in a climate more conducive to international understanding and cooperation. Such an opportunity, whatever its possibility, merits continued efforts.