To explore the relationship between propaganda and mass violence, the Museum entered into a partnership with the Fred Friendly Seminars at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. Using a role-playing format developed by television news pioneer Fred Friendly, the seminar raised a series of dilemmas drawn from real-life conflicts to confront participants with a clash of legitimate values. Panelists explored the role of propaganda in situations in which mass violence is threatened, and how the use of propaganda during the Holocaust era informs our reactions to its dissemination today.
As the hypothetical scenario unfolds, the fictitious country of Northland considers strict laws controlling the press. Watch as the panelists wrestle with the limits of free speech and incitement when genocide is threatened.
Estimates are that 30,000 Midrainians are dead with over 100,000 refugees. And the violence continues. In neighboring Northland, the president has proposed laws requiring the licensing of journalists, outlawing derogatory statements against any ethnic group, and criminalizing incitement to violence.
ARTHUR MILLER: When he's asked why, he says, "Just look at Southland." He wants to know what you think about these proposed laws. Bob?
BOB SCHIEFFER: Well, I would tell him that that doesn't seem to work very well. The most credible press is a press that's free to report. And when you start giving tests about who's gonna be a journalist and having licenses, then you no longer have a free press. The government--
ARTHUR MILLER: What's wrong with licensing?
BOB SCHIEFFER: Well, the government then controls who can be a reporter. That's what's wrong with it. And I would tell him he's going down a very dangerous path here, that will cause him more problems than what he already has.
ARTHUR MILLER: What kind of problems?
BOB SCHIEFFER: Well, are you gonna have just a totalitarian society where the only information about anything that comes out comes from the government? The reason, then the only reason, really, for a free press, is it provides a second source of information that you can check against the government's version of things. And you can either have a free flow of information and an independent source of information, or not. You can't have it almost an independent source. And when you go down that road, that's what you have.
ARTHUR MILLER: Now, JB and Kemal, a government official is a survivor of the Midrainia massacres. And he says, "I see that we have some shared experiences. Certainly, you will understand why these laws are necessary."
JB RUTAGARAMA: It will be a new form of oppression. And I think the survivors and Northernians, they want to have the same freedom as other nations enjoy.
ARTHUR MILLER: It's designed to protect you. It's designed to protect the people against media that would incite violence, that would stir up ethnic conflict.
JB RUTAGARAMA: Then instead, I would suggest instead of making a law, let's make a guideline.
ARTHUR MILLER: A guideline?
JB RUTAGARAMA: Yes. And whoever goes overboard and incite violence, then those individual be held accountable.
ARTHUR MILLER: Well, you're writing a different law. You seem to be limiting the law to incitement to violence.
JB RUTAGARAMA: Yes.
KEMAL KURSPAHIC: The problem with governments criminalizing press or speech is that those governments in conflict zones usually don't have a history of understanding the concept of free media. They don't have ability to judge. And if that's subject to their interpretation of what is breaking the law, what is the hate speech, what is incitement to violence, then I wouldn't trust them.
ARTHUR MILLER: Scott, what do you think?
SCOTT STRAUS: I think that it's a dangerous law. I think that this kind of vague language invites abuse. And even if you start out with good intentions of yes, I wanna prevent some type of atrocity, down the road, these laws are on the books, and they can become ways of institutionalizing power, squelching speech, squelching criticism. And you could have a very, I mean, that could have very negative outcomes.
ARTHUR MILLER: Let's take another member of the Parliament who's reacting. Says, "Look, there are a group of us in the Northland Parliament who don't wanna go to the full extent of the laws that the President is proposing. But I do believe that the Canadians have it right, that it is appropriate, pass a law directed at essentially offensive slurs and group libels."
IRWIN COTLER: Well, it's not only the Canadian. I think that most, you know, democratic societies do have laws regulating hate propaganda. The question is are they narrowly tailored, that they're not there to target, you know, freedom of speech in the media. I think Canadian model is a good one here. Because it prohibits the willful promotion of hatred or contempt against an identifiable group, a group identifiable by reason of its race, religion, and nationality or color, in a public place.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: I'm bursting out of my seat to intervene. Was there not precisely this kind of law in Germany post the Holocaust?
ARTHUR MILLER: Ah-hah.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: This is an absolute essential requirement. We cannot mix up our notions of free, democratic free speech when applied to a post-genocidal situation. There has to be some limit. There has to be some regulation on the kind of speech that leads to mass killing.
ARTHUR MILLER: You wanna react to the post-World War II German laws?
STEVEN LUCKERT: Well, I think that that was something that the Allies, when Germany was defeated, were very conscious of eliminating Nazi propaganda and eliminating militarism. Essentially, that legacy continues on into our own day. You know, even to covering up the swastika, not making Mein Kempf available to everyone except for scholarly study. But what was interesting is that by 1946, you already had some journalists and critics who were questioning that policy, saying whether they were trying to build democracy by using methods that one might say are totalitarian.
ARTHUR MILLER: Does anyone in this delegation just categorically reject any law, even if it is, as Irwin suggests, narrowly tailored?
BOB SCHIEFFER: Yeah, I'm pretty much against it, yeah. I mean I start out at the point is, we need to know as much as we can. The more we know about anything, the more we're able to make intelligent decisions about it.