Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 504

Pravda portrays falsification in the contemporary Western news media. The title invites a comparison between the falsehoods of Fleet Street (the center of English journalism) and those of Moscow. The authors do not suggest that English news media are actually as deceitful and propagandistic as the state-owned Press of the former Soviet Union, but their satire shows that, given contemporary trends, an English newspaper can hardly communicate more truth than Pravda.

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The play accounts for this falsification in several ways. Although Le Roux does more than any other character to undermine the integrity of the free press in Pravda, falsification by no means begins with him. In a scene before he buys his first newspaper, a woman seeks a correction from a newspaper that has falsely identified her as the mother of a drug dealer; the editor is too concerned with other matters to listen, and Andrew gives her a frank but reprehensible refusal: “I’ll be honest. They don’t look good on the page . . . if we apologize and correct, how can the readers know what is true and what is not? To print corrections is a kind of betrayal. Of a trust. It’s a matter—finally—of journalistic ethics.” The ironic point is that newspapers accept very little ethical responsibility and seek merely to maintain their own authority. Significantly, this scene occurs before Le Roux is introduced.

With the introduction of Le Roux, the audience witnesses the quick firing of a number of editors. The point is comically made (as Le Roux, in his abruptness, tries to fire people who do not work for him) that editors have little job security and so should not engage in controversy. Andrew’s editor at The Bystander (the name of the paper makes comic reference to its policy of nonengagement) told him this explicitly before Le Roux purchased the paper, but Le Roux serves to accelerate this pattern. In the course of the play, Le Roux fires four editors, and one editor who attempts to resist Le Roux’s effects hangs himself in despair. Le Roux cavalierly announces his desire to lower standards, saying “Good papers are no good. . . . All that writing. Why go to the trouble of producing good ones, when bad ones are so much easier? And they sell better too.” Le Roux defends his activities by appealing to a realpolitik philosophy in which large breast contests, which make papers sell well, are more important than reporting on plutonium leaks, which do not enhance sales so much. Le Roux makes every newspaper he owns more an opiate of the masses (Karl Marx’s term for organized religion) than a check on government, and his effectiveness in this campaign can be measured by the change in Andrew from a congenial editor to one who shouts “Stop all this chatter! Work! Work you bastards! Get to work!” By focusing on how one South African businessman influences the lives of a few individuals, the play warns of the possibility of Orwellian developments in English journalism.

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Characters