Monday, January 04, 2016

Knowledgeable Censors in North Africa in 1941

The Australian Official History suggests that the best censor is someone trained as an intelligence officer who has extensive newspaper experience. Apparently, the British censors lacked both sorts of experience. They were said to have been open to pressure by the large British newspapers. General Blamey's intelligence officer, Lt-Colonel Rogers, had stepped in and had set up a censor for Australian news in Cairo. His choice was Major Fenton, who had experience since 1939 in intelligence and had been a "senior newspaperman" before the war.

Australian news that would benefit the army needed to be aware of Australian issues. There were times when the best solution might be to provide a soldier's name to the press or his Australian state. The concern was to help the news consumers in Australia while not revealing information that would help the enemy. They also did not want someone who lacked Australian experience saying something that would offend people in Australia. South Africa had this sort of problem due to their racial setup and with anti-war activists.

One lesson that is still highly relevant is that a spokesperson needs to know what is being planned and what is really happening. One important goal is to not be seen as either ignorant or as someone being dishonest. In either case, the actual situation might be that the senior officers had not seen fit to share important information or had not trusted the spokesperson with the plans or events on the ground. Another issue was that the powers-that-be in London wanted to describe New Zealand, Australian, and South African troops as "British Imperial troops". The Australians were able to defeat that practice during the Syrian campaign. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

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