The Spectator

The Spectator at war: A well-behaved press

‘War and the press’, from The Spectator, 15 August 1914:

When Mr Churchill paid a high compliment in the House of Commons to the British newspapers he said no more than was deserved. The newspapers are now under control by law, and we need not specially praise them for a reticence and a public spirit which are exacted of them. At the same time, there has obviously been no attempt whatever by them to dodge the letter of the law, or to give themselves the benefit of the doubt in ambiguous circumstances – a benefit which might aid a newspaper greatly in competition with its rivals. The chief merit of the newspapers, however, was their conduct during what Mr. Churchill called the precautionary period, before war was declared. Then there was no fear of statutory penalties, yet the entire Press voluntarily observed a silence that was one of the most remarkable things we can remember. If we had not experienced it, we could have not believed that such secretiveness in a country like ours – which multiplies the hundreds tongues of rumour – would have been possible. We heard much of Japanese reticence during the Russo-Japanese War, but it is not now seen to have been more remarkable than our own. The words “Expeditionary Force” ceased to exist for every British newspaper.

What is the explanation of the faithful service which the newspapers have rendered to their country? It is simply that at last Ministers have been sensible enough to take the Press into their confidence, tell editors what was being done, and ask them to mention no subject on which publicity which injure the plans of the War Office and the Admiralty. The result was a complete success we have witnessed. If any member of the Government was more responsible than another for this piece of great practical wisdom, it was, we believe, Mr.

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