COMMONWEALTH PRESS UNION
The Commonwealth Press Union (CPU), formerly the Empire Press Union (EPU), was founded in 1908 to foster interchanges between newspaper journalists across the British empire. In 1909, the EPU held its first Imperial Press Conference in London, attended by journalists and managers who were warned of impending war with Germany. At this event, the Indian, Australian and New Zealand sections of the EPU began to address the disadvantages of distance and achieved early success in reducing press cable rates, a credo to which the organisation remained committed. Subsequent conferences concentrated on reducing cable rates, improving telecommunications and developing wireless for imperial purposes.
After World War I, the conferences became regular five-yearly events, hosted by the Dominions (Canada 1920, Australia 1925, South Africa 1935) as well as Britain (1930). Between the wars, Australian conference delegations, led by members of the Fairfax family (1909, 1920, 1925), Theodore Fink (1930) and Delamore McCay (1935), played an active role in lobbying for further reductions in cable rates. Australian nationalism became more pronounced over the period, most notably on matters of broadcasting policy (1925) and trade (1930). In the years leading up to World War II, annual conferences (1936–39) were convened in London on issues of technical production, training schemes for journalists and expanded airmail services. With the outbreak of war and the nationalisation of the imperial telecommunications carrier Cable and Wireless, the EPU’s long campaign for penny press cables was eventually realised.
Immediately after World War II, the established five-year conference cycle of the EPU resumed but, as British leadership faltered, the organisation began redefining itself in the newly formed Commonwealth. In 1950, it was renamed the Commonwealth Press Union and assumed a new role as the watchdog of Commonwealth press freedom, while retaining its previous commitment to cheap communication rates for member countries. Conferences in India-Pakistan (1961) and the West Indies (1965) confirmed its commitment to decentralised operations and training programs for journalists in developing Commonwealth countries.
As the Cold War intensified, the Australian section adopted a forthright libertarian stance under Sir Keith Murdoch in opposing Commonwealth moves towards self-regulation and codes of journalistic ethics. With the appointment of (Sir) Vincent Fairfax as chair of the Australian delegation and 1955 Australian conference, the organisation achieved stability as a voice for publishers, including in South Africa, until the latter left the union in 1961.
Despite the death in 1981 of Gavin Astor, its post-war British figurehead, the CPU continued its post-war role as Commonwealth press watchdog, while the Australian section maintained a strong anti-regulatory stance at home and towards the Asia-Pacific region. A conference in Delhi in 1984 attracted 100 delegates from 20 countries and addressed issues of press freedom in the developing world. The oldest organisation of its kind, the CPU announced its closure in 2008.
REFs: D. Cryle, ‘Interdependent or Independent? Australian British Relations at the Melbourne Imperial Press Conference’, in K. Darian-Smith et al. (eds), Exploring the British World (2004) and ‘The Press Union at the End of Empire: Anglo–Australian Perspectives, 1946–65’, Journalism: Theory, Practice and Criticism, 12(8) (2011).