No. 24 NAI DFA Legal Adviser's Papers
Dublin, 15 September 1939
1. We are asked to reply immediately to the Secret minute dated 14th September,1 which we have received from the Controller of Censorship2 in regard to the draft of an Order to be entitled the Emergency Powers (No. 5) Order, 1939.
2. We are not asked to comment on the draft Order, and there is probably no < reason why we should want to. In accordance with the usual practice adopted by the Parliamentary Draftsman in drafting such Orders, no penalties are set out for contraventions of the Order. Hence, it would appear that the very effective penalty of closing down an Irish newspaper's offices for a period of time cannot be resorted to where such a newspaper's proprietors or editors have disobeyed a prohibition imposed by an 'authorised person' under the Order.
3. The Controller of Censorship does not ask us to put forward any constructive suggestions as to 'the matters arising in our Department' which we might desire to have dealt with positively in Irish newspapers. The reason for that may be that the Order, as now drafted, is mainly repressive in character, although Article 5, paragraphs (2), (3), (4), (5) and (6) refer to requests by the Government for the publication of official documents in Irish newspapers.
4. What we are specifically asked to do is to give definite particulars of matters, objectionable from the point of view of our Department, the publication of which we desire to have prohibited.
5. It is submitted, however, that this Department, unlike other Departments of State, has a positive as well as a negative policy in regard to censorship. Insofar as we will want to continue our normal peacetime policy of averting as far as possible all causes of offence to friendly States, their rulers and peoples, our future policy will be negative. But, if the Department is to fulfil the special duty laid upon it in the present emergency, to ensure and maintain the status of neutrality vis-à-vis all the belligerent States, it is clear that a public opinion must be built up in this country favourable to Irish neutrality at once. A purely negative Press censorship policy will not achieve this end. A positive newspaper campaign would go far to do so.
6. We may assume that, notwithstanding the broad lines of the new draft Order, it will be possible for the Controller of Censorship to exert considerable influence on what goes into the Press as well as on what must be kept out of it. No doubt, he or some other 'authorised person' will address representatives of the leading dailies from time to time in order to advise them how best to avoid having their journals fall victims to the Censor's scissors. That being so, it is suggested that all the arguments in favour of neutral status should be urged upon newspapermen who should be prevailed upon to present and 'feature' them constantly.
7. Even from the standpoint of newspaper proprietors, the foregoing suggestion should commend itself. Newspapers are now being confronted with enormous difficulties. They are likely to lose a large amount of their advertising matter, to find their paper supplies severely restricted, and, on top of those disadvantages, they will be asked to sacrifice much of the material which they have to buy on a permanent contract basis from British controlled Press agencies. Any proposals of a constructive nature may be expected to be welcomed, and if this Department can supply material as well, having, of course, some news value, there is no doubt that the newspapers will prefer that method of approach than the way of the scissors.
8. Between the alternatives of 'putting over' the neutrality policy peaceably now or having to impose it later on by force (or relinquish it altogether), the Government have scarcely any choice. There can be no question as to which is the more expedient plan. This is especially the case as far as the Department of External Affairs is concerned. Unless the public are quickly rendered 'neutral-minded', the Department is going to find a quite disproportionate share of its official time taken up by apologies and 'explanations' to the belligerent Governments.
9. The Press is the greatest potential ally available at the present time in the campaign to establish the neutrality principle firmly once for all in this country. And, once that principle is really supported at home by the vast majority of Irish people, the difficulties that it may involve vis-à-vis foreign States will be fewer and easier to adjust.
10. It is accordingly submitted that we might reply to the Controller of Censorship's minute in terms which will not only furnish him with a complete catalogue of the topics which we would prefer to have prohibited, but also with a list of matters that we would like to see emphasised.
11. Among the first class of matters, namely, the prohibited matters, we will, no doubt, mention all references to Heads of States, whether direct or indirect, in printed or pictorial form, in newspapers or on posters, which might be liable to give offence to such Heads of States or their representatives (if any) here. Also, similar references to foreign Governments, peoples, armies, customs, religions, ways of living, etc. We might even propose, for greater safety, that no newspaper posters containing more than the name of the relevant journal should be allowed. And we might, perhaps, recommend the prohibition of ribbon headlines. Such prohibitions form part of the normal regulations in force in some States. The Swiss papers, for instance, appear to avoid sensational headlines, and, during the present emergency, newspaper vendors are forbidden to shout the contents of their wares. In France, 'Stop Presses' are prohibited.
12. On the positive side, however, it is thought that we should be more detailed in our recommendations. We might, for instance, suggest that Irish newspapers be generally informed in the following sense regarding the Government's neutrality policy:-
(a) Neutrality is the only logical policy for Ireland which neither lost nor gained by the Peace Treaties, 1919. For, notwithstanding propaganda to the contrary, the truth appears to be that the present war is being waged between the 'have' and the 'have not' States.
(b) Neutrality is the only decent attitude for a Christian country like this to adopt at the present time. Ireland has, since the creation of the Irish State, used all her endeavours to establish tolerance and goodwill at home and to further peace efforts abroad.
(c) The difficulties of neutrality have been exaggerated. There are certainly great difficulties for States close up to the firing line, such as Denmark for example, but experience has shown that those difficulties have the effect of drawing the people of neutral States closer together precisely in favour of the preservation of their neutrality.
(d) The cost of neutrality is nothing like the cost of war. If some people are suffering materially now, it is due not to their own country's neutrality, but to the war which is taking place elsewhere. Were Ireland at war, that suffering would be increased a hundredfold. This is a time of individual readjustment everywhere.
13. Even using the limited sources at their disposal, Irish newspaper editors should be able to convey to the public:-
(a) The fact that this is not a 'world war' like that of 1914-1918. That means that every country is consulting its own best interests, which nearly always results in the decision to remain neutral. A list of those countries which have declared their neutrality should be published prominently from day to day. New additions to the list should be given larger headlines than the 'war news'.
(b) The incidental 'horrors of war' should be pointed out, even if the 'atrocity' stories are eliminated. Thus, news of famine, disease, high living costs and food shortage consequent on the war and coming from the countries at war ought to get full publicity with suitable editorial comment.
(c) All attempts to bring about peace, especially those emanating from the Vatican and neutral countries such as Catholic Belgium, should be described in as much detail as possible. When the British agencies do not give such particulars at the time, they should be sought out some days later in the appropriate Continental journals. The demand for 'hot' news will, no doubt, fall off as a result of the censorship. News will be welcome whenever it is available and after some days the time-lag will not be very noticeable, because regular.
14. It is going to be difficult to explain to the Controller of Censorship how we would wish to have the Irish papers controlled in regard to the more subtle kind of anti-neutrality items which the 'Irish Times' has been publishing recently. The general tone of such items is favourable to the idea of neutrality, but, by damning it with faint encouragement, leaves on the reader's mind the impression that Ireland cannot remain neutral for long. Perhaps, if you were to speak personally to the Chief Press Censor and to illustrate your remarks by references to the offending items, the Department's view might be easier to appreciate.
15. No attempt to deal with the positive aspect of the Department's view on Press censorship is being made here. Only a few general ideas are given so as to draw urgent attention to the fact that merely suppressive measures (or the method of providing 'antidotes' in the form of pro-German reports) would not meet our needs. On the repressive side, we would simply require that neither pro-British nor pro-German matter should go into the papers as such. On the positive side, we will have to ask for the deliberate creation by Press propaganda of a neutrally-minded public opinion here in the shortest possible time.
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