The First International Journalism Organization Debates News Copyright, 1894-1898

By Bjork, Ulf Jonas | Journalism History, Summer 1996 | Go to article overview

The First International Journalism Organization Debates News Copyright, 1894-1898


Bjork, Ulf Jonas, Journalism History


International mass communication is treated mostly as a modern phenomenon, brought about by modern technologies. As a result, the study of journalism history has been overwhelmingly delineated by national borders, and only a handful of historical studies have looked at mass media development outside the context of individual countries. Although these studies clearly show that media ideas, forms, and innovations have flowed between countries since the invention of the printing press, they tend to focus on differences between nations, either through comparisons or by discussing the reactions of one country to the media of another.' This study, by contrast, is concerned with similarities, with how journalists of different nations attempted to find common ground.

Its topic is the first international organization of journalists, the International Congress of the Press, and the founding of that organization is in itself proof of the existence of an understanding among turn-ofthe-century journalists that there were issues which transcended national borders. One of those issues, copyright protection for news, is examined here, not primarily for its legal significance but for what the surrounding discussion reveals about the perceived functions of the press.2

Founded in 1894, the ICP emerged in an era of rapid change in the world's press. Historians have used the term commercialization to describe that change, which entailed the shift from individual to corporate ownership, the ascendancy of advertising as the main source of revenue, and the division of labor separating journalists from newspaper proprietorship. With these structural changes came changes in newspaper content and function, such as a stress on gathering and publishing news and an increasingly nonpolitical stance.3

Due to varying levels of industrial development and differing political and cultural traditions, press commercialization occurred at different times in different countries, but, by the time the Congress began meeting in the mid-1890s, commercialized newspapers had made an appearance in most ICP member countries. Different levels of development would at times surface in the organization's debates, but more often ICP delegates spoke from a common experience of newspapers that were changing in the same direction. The formation of the Congress was an attempt to deal with some of the consequences of that change.'

The idea of regular international meetings and a permanent international organization of journalists was first brought up at an 1893 meeting of British, French and Belgian journalists in London. A full-scale conference was organized at the international exposition at Antwerp the following year, where plans were made for a permanent organization. The International Congress of the Press finally came into being with the adoption of a constitution at the 1896 Budapest Congress, which established the International Union of Press Associations, headquartered in Paris, as the organizer of international press congresses.5

Individual journalists were affiliated with the IUPA and the ICP through membership in the press associations of their respective countries. In 1897, the year after the constitution had been adopted, the Congress' membership consisted of twelve countries, forty-eight associations and more than 9,000 journalists; at Paris three years later, at the largest ICP meeting ever, twenty-four countries and sixtynine associations were represented, and, although the number of individual members was not given, the addition of countries and associations meant that it had increased as well. In all, the Congress would meet fifteen times between 1894 and 1914, annually throughout the 1890s, less regularly after the turn of the century. World War I disrupted the activities of the ICP, which did not meet again until 1927. Four more congresses followed, but the organization never achieved the prominence it had enjoyed before the war, and it held its last meeting in 1936. …

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