Honest History list: wartime spin

One hundred years ago today, 1 September 1914, this item appeared in The Brisbane Courier:




LONDON, Sunday Night

The Government Press Bureau states that its account of the fortunes of the British Expeditionary Forces fully describes the present position. Though messages by correspondents of papers are not forbidden, they should be received with extreme caution, as the information is second or third hand from persons in no condition to tell a coherent story. The informants lack proper perspective.

The BEF were at that time engaged in heavy fighting, the first of the war, around Mons in Belgium. The attempt by British officials was certainly not the first attempt by governments to control war news: one assumes that the people of Sparta received a highly-spun version of the Battle of Thermopylae.

Finding the Courier piece today, however, as Australia seems to be getting into yet another war, encouraged us to find some other material on our site about how governments and journalists work together in wartime and after:

  • Harvey Broadbent shows how journalists like CEW Bean, almost from the landing at Gallipoli, helped build up the Anzac legend.
  • Robin Gerster wrote a classic book about ‘big-noting’ by Australian war correspondents – perhaps big-noting is boosted by close contact with front-line brass, if not front-line troops.
  • John Curtin’s skill at getting the message across is described by journalist Fred Smith (full text of book), sorted by Clem Lloyd and Richard Hall.
  • Michael Brissenden calls Afghanistan ‘the war we hardly knew’ – because of the control exercised by Defence officials over working journalists.
  • Tom Hyland concurs with Brissenden and so does Brian Toohey and so does Kevin Foster here and here. Review in 2017 of a related book by John Martinkus.
  • Chris Masters presents a rather different journalist’s view of the Afghanistan front line.
  • Stuart Campbell writes about the media’s sanitising of war. Does the media play along with Defence spin? Must they?
  • Finally, our review note links to many other sources about the relationship between war correspondents and governments.

We will be interested to see the extent to which Australian journalists can remain independent reporters of what is happening in Iraq 2014, whether they are ’embedded’ or are merely interpreters of Defence media releases emanating from Canberra.

1 September 2014 updated

Honest History tweets through David Stephens @honesthistory1; a daily feature is Twistory, randomly chosen items from a century ago from the National Library of Australia’s Trove service.




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