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INTRODUCTION

The "Het Laatste Nieuws Foundation" was created on 3 May 1955, with the aim of establishing the ideological scope of this Flemish newspaper for the future. The initiative was in line with an international trend in the years following World War II that strove to safeguard the independence of journalists. The trend was set by Le Monde, the Paris newspaper, in 1951 and by the British General Council of the Press in 1953. Nevertheless the Flemish case was quite specific. Unlike the foreign examples, the initiative in this case came from the newspaper’s owner, Julius Hoste, Jr., a minister in the wartime Belgian government-in-exile in London. The second original element was the explicit ideological objective underpinning the Foundation’s creation. Hoste was convinced that only a modern social liberalism, akin to the one described in the Oxford Manifesto that he and Salvador de Madariaga had drafted during the establishment of the Liberal International on 14 April 1947, could provide an effective answer to the destruction that the totalitarian Nazi regime had inflicted upon Germany and Europe.

Just prior to his death Julius Hoste had entrusted his like-minded companion and successor as head of Het Laatste Nieuws, Albert Maertens, with the task of creating a foundation that would see to it that the newspaper continued to disseminate liberal, humanist views, wholly independent from party politics. Hoste had given Maertens a list of "unimpeachable Liberals" to approach for the foundation. Thanks to the co-opting rule for new members, ideological continuity was guaranteed. Two crucial clauses are firmly anchored in the statutes of the Foundation as well as in those of the publisher, the N.V. Hoste company. First, the recruitment of all new journalists and editors-in-chief is subject to the Foundation’s prior consent. The legal force of their appointment is conditional upon their signing of the Oxford Manifesto. Secondly, the transfer of the business or of the paper’s title to a third party is possible only after said third party has subscribed to the same obligations vis-à-vis the Foundation as the previous owners, in other words, unless they accept that it is the Foundation that continues to trace out the general political direction of the newspaper. Hoste’s and Maertens’ ideological construction has proven its worth for fifty years already, even after the newspaper changed hands. The constructive cooperation with the successive PLCs is a result of the fact that the managing director of the publishing house and the editor-in-chief of the newspaper have continued to be present as observers at the meetings of the Foundation, renamed "Het Laatste Nieuws Board non-profit organisation" ("Raad Het Laatste Nieuws vzw") for legal reasons in 2004.

The existence of the Het Laatste Nieuws Board has social significance as well. The Board has always granted journalists the right to express themselves freely, free of any tactical and strategic considerations of a party-political nature, as long as they respected the Oxford Manifesto and abide by professional standards. Each time this professional honesty was threatened, the Board acted as a safety net to the press staff. But the Board also reprimanded them for their conduct when they unnecessarily targeted individual politicians instead of focussing on the content of their messages. The Board tries to strike the difficult balance between safeguarding the foundations of Flemish humanist liberalism and at the same time sounding critical signals in the daily political application of these great principles. This ought to reassure the broad segment of Flemish society that reads the "biggest Flemish newspaper" on a daily basis, a segment that is happy in the knowledge that the newspaper’s content is continually checked against the noble intellectual heritage of modern, humanist and socially-oriented liberalism.

Walter Prevenier
Chairman of the Het Laatste Nieuws Board, non-profit organisation

 

OXFORD MANIFESTO 1947

      Drawn up at the International Liberal Conference at Wadham College, Oxford, in April, 1947.

      We, Liberals of nineteen countries assembled at Oxford at a time of disorder, poverty, famine and fear caused by two World Wars;
Convinced that this condition of the world is largely due to the abandonment of liberal principles;
Affirm our faith in this Declaration:


I

1. Man is first and foremost a being endowed with the power of independent thought and action, and with the ability to distinguish right from wrong.

2. Respect for the human person and for the family is the true basis of society.

3. The State is only the instrument of the community; it should assume no power which conflicts with the fundamental rights of the citizens and with the conditions essential for a responsible and creative life, namely:
    Personal freedom, guaranteed by the independence of the administration of law and justice;
    Freedom of worship and liberty of conscience;
    Freedom of speech and of the press;
    Freedom to associate or not to associate;
    Free choice of occupation;
    The opportunity of a full and varied education, according to ability and irrespective of birth or means;
    The right to private ownership of property and the right to embark on individual enterprise;
    Consumer's free choice and the opportunity to reap the full benefit of the productivity of the soil and the industry of man;
    Security from the hazards of sickness, unemployment, disability and old age;
    Equality of rights between men and women.
4. These rights and conditions can be secured only by true democracy. True democracy is inseparable from political liberty and is based on the conscious, free and enlightened consent of the majority, expressed through a free and secret ballot, with due respect for the liberties and opinions of minorities.


II

1. The suppression of economic freedom must lead to the disappearance of political freedom. We oppose such suppression, whether brought about by State ownership or control or by private monopolies, cartels and trusts. We admit State ownership only for those undertakings which are beyond the scope of private enterprise or in which competition no longer plays its part.

2. The welfare of the community must prevail and must be safeguarded from the abuse of power by sectional interests.

3. A continuous betterment of the conditions of employment, and of the housing and environment of the workers is essential. The rights, duties and interests of labour and capital are complementary; organised consultation and collaboration between employers and employed is vital to the well-being of industry.


III

      Service is the necessary complement of freedom and every right involves a corresponding duty. If free institutions are to work effectively, every citizen must have a sense of moral responsibility towards his fellow men and take an active part in the affairs of the community.


IV

      War can be abolished and world peace and economic prosperity restored only if all nations fulfil the following conditions:

a) Loyal adherence to a world organisation of all nations, great and small, under the same law and equity, and with power to enforce strict observance of all international obligations freely entered into;
b) Respect for the right of every nation to enjoy the essential human liberties;
c) Respect for the language, faith, laws and customs of national minorities;
d) The free exchange of ideas, news, goods and services between nations, as well as freedom of travel within and between all countries, unhampered by censorship, protective trade barriers and exchange regulations;
e) The development of the backward areas of the world, with the collaboration of their inhabitants, in their true interests and in the interests of the world at large.

      We call upon all men and women who are in general agreement with these ideals and principles to join us in an endeavour to win their acceptance throughout the world.