2. A direct censorship-in-advance on outgoing matter, whether dispatched by telegraph, cable, radio, or even by telephone. This exists in Russia, and it is common in wartime or during periods of crisis.
It sometimes is evaded by sending dispatches by mail or by telephoning them out of the country. Spain used its control of the telephone during the Civil War of 1936-1937 to oblige correspondents to submit outgoing dispatches to the censors before telephone connections would be permitted them.
3. An indirect and usually unacknowledged censorship of outgoing messages of some or all descriptions. This exists, for example, in Italy, and occasionally even in France. It may be an active censorship, it may mean only a delay, or it may be merely supervisory.
Perhaps the heads of communications companies are threatened with having their company franchises canceled if they permit unfriendly messages to pass over the facilities they control.
This means that they themselves must set up a supervisory censorship to protect their interests, while the country itself is able to deny that it maintains any censorship. This method was originated in Argentina.
4. A direct or indirect post-publication censorship on domestic newspapers. Offending words, sentences, or paragraphs may be gouged out of the type after it is set, or the pages may be made up again after the censor has seen page or galley proofs and indicated his objections.
An entire edition may be confiscated if it contains objectionable matter. Or the newspaper, as punishment, may be suppressed for a period of time, or even permanently, if it has offended authority or transgressed the rules. Or the editor may be fined, jailed, exiled or otherwise penalized. This form has been used, with variations, in Italy, in Japan, in Spain and elsewhere.
5. A direct or indirect censorship affecting foreign correspondents before or after publication of their dispatches. They may be reprimanded by government officials for “inaccurate” reports, they may be denied further access to news sources or the use of transmission facilities, they may be misled, deliberately, with a view to discrediting them; existence may be made unpleasant or even hazardous for them in various ways, or they may be asked to leave the country.
A correspondent may be accompanied on trips into the country by a government official or agent, who tries to direct the correspondent in such a way that he will see or hear nothing displeasing to the authorities.
The very presence of this representative may so intimidate natives of the country that they would not dare tell anything unfavorable, even if they wished to, and they may do the opposite, trying to advance their own interests by saying what they know the government would like to have them say. This has occurred, among other places, in Russia and Poland.
Perhaps correspondents will even be offered direct or indirect bribes, they may be given official honors to win their friendship, or they may be given certain social advantages.
Apart from those methods, a correspondent’s employer at home may be poisoned against him through complaints of inaccuracy coming from official government sources, directly, or from that government’s local diplomatic or consular representatives, or through nationals of the “offended” country living in the community where the paper bearing the dispatches is published, and acting at the suggestion or request of the consul.
One of the subtlest and yet most effective censorships which any government or official can use is that called the “censorship of confidences.” That is, the correspondent is taken into the confidence of the official, he is told the government plan, the real “inside story,” something that is to occur, what some high official has said but he is enjoined that the information is given to him “in confidence.”
It is, he is told, “for your own information,” it is “background material,” but not to be used, and certainly not ascribed to the true source.
Such are the ethics of journalism that a correspondent who learns something “in confidence” does not betray that confidence, even if it means that he is “scooped” on the story by a colleague.
In a sense, of course, this is enlightened self-interest, because he knows very well that he will not be told anything else if he betrays one confidence. Yet it has not been uncommon, in the United States, for newspaper reporters to go to jail for contempt of court rather than reveal a source of confidential information.
So effective is the censorship of confidence that many statesmen use it deliberately, sometimes with the added flourish of asking the correspondent’s opinion, or even advice; perhaps flattering him so that he tends to forget he is a reporter and begins to dream that he is a statesman, with power to shape the destinies of mankind.
This type of censorship is used in national capitals and at international conferences. It may reach editors, publishers, and owners, whose reticence is insured or aid enlisted at the price of a dinner or a social evening with President or Premier.
To avoid being so gagged, some correspondents have refused to accept any confidential information. If they know in advance that they are to be told something in confidence, they will decline to hear it because they may be able to get the same information elsewhere, and use it, while if they had accepted it in confidence from this statesman, and they would feel bound to keep silence.
President Theodore Roosevelt was much given to using the method, speaking with the greatest frankness to journalists, sometimes telling them things they already knew, but muzzling them by saying that it was to be considered confidential. Mr. Lloyd George did the same thing.
Sometimes a government may believe a censorship is essential to protect its people from over-sensational journalism, or to protect what seem to be perfectly proper activities against too-inquisitive or mischievous reporting by an unscrupulous domestic press or against irresponsible, inaccurate, or viciously unfriendly reports by journalists representing foreign, and perhaps hostile, papers.
Nevertheless, any censorship is dangerous because it invites the commission of abuses by a government protected against the judgment of a populace well informed by full press reports.
Under a censorship, the press no longer can serve as a “check” on the government, which is one of its useful functions in lands where freedom of expression exists, and one of the reasons for its being guaranteed freedom in those countries.
Correspondents with a love of facts do not submit meekly to censorships or other restrictions. Information can be mailed out, and, particularly when the envelope is marked for a private address, there seldom is any interference. Press dispatches sometimes are sent out in diplomatic mail pouches, especially from Russia, Italy and Germany.
Occasionally the correspondent’s copy is carried out of the country be some friend or agent, and mailed in another country, or delivered in person to a newspaper office or control bureau. Codes have been used. Even a telegraph or cable censorship sometimes is evaded by sending the message to a private address, and at full rates, instead of at press rates.
The chief device for eluding the censorship in recent years has been the telephone, supposed to be protected from interference by international convention. This protection does not always hold well, however; it did not in Spain in 1936.
And yet, a vast amount of news leaves every country. In many of them it must pass the censor and, knowing that it must, the correspondent is influenced, perhaps unconsciously, to shade his story here and there in a way that he believes will meet the censor’s requirements.
Unless the reader has a super-human ability to read between the lines, therefore, he too is going to get a shaded opinion, if not from one story then perhaps from a week of stories, or a month of stories, and that may accomplish the very purpose the censorship is intended to produce.
A government seeking to control foreign opinion does not always own itself defeated by mere evasions. It does not like to expel a correspondent outright, because that may be regarded as a tacit admission that he has spoken too truthfully.
Yet many a correspondent has been expelled. There also are other means by which he can be forced to leave.
He may be made uncomfortable in petty ways, denied access to officials or to officers, information may be unaccountably “lost” or “unavailable” when he appears, his friends and acquaintances may be annoyed or persecuted until they are afraid or unwilling to give him further information, with the ultimate result that he ceases to be of much use to his paper. In Russia the correspondent may leave the country on a visit and then be denied a reentry visa, which accomplishes the desired end without the necessity of expelling the man.
One weapon most governments have, and some use, is a virtual monopoly of communications. In almost every country of the world except the United States the facilities of communication, and sometimes of transportation as well, are owned by the government.
Just as it was found convenient to form a Postal Union to facilitate the exchange of mail between nations, so there was formed a Telegraph Union, with a membership of 81 states and headquarters at Berne, Switzerland.
The Union has, with general consent, extended its authority to other forms of communication, as human ingenuity has devised them, including the telephone in international use, and the wireless. It holds meetings every five years, and sometimes oftener, to consider matters of importance in world communications.
Following the 1932 meeting at Madrid its name was changed to “International Telecommunications Union.” Meetings concerned with these matters have been held in past years at Madrid, The Hague, Washington, Lisbon, Berlin, Copenhagen, Cortina, Paris, and Brussels arid, the first meeting, at St. Petersburg in 1875. Regional conferences also have been held from time to time.
It is obvious that, if a government has control over transmission facilities, it can control what is to enter or leave the country- by telegraph, telephone or wireless.
The abuses to which such complete control of the communications might be put, however, has induced the nations assembled in meetings of the Telegraph Union to restrict the privilege. Theoretically, no government is entitled to cut telephone communications with another nation, or to cut telegraph or wireless communications.
In practice, of course, such agreements have been and always will be ignored in wartime. And even in peacetime, while lines of communication are not cut, governments do delay messages filed for transmission, and sometimes “kill” them entirely.
Messages are garbled with a purpose, or changed. Telephone lines are out of order, connections are granted only on condition that the news message meets official approval, or connections are poor when it pleases the government to have it so, although all bad connections are not, of course, to be attributed to any such cause.
Certain governments would like to have more absolute control over the communications so that it would not be necessary to resort to subterfuges by way of bottling up or censoring the news.
Until the time of the Madrid conference the governing clause on censorship was Section 9 of the agreement adopted at St. Petersburg in 1875. It read, “The high contracting parties reserve to them the right to stop the transmission of any private telegram which appears dangerous to the security of the State or which is contrary to the laws of the country, to public order or to decency.”
The Madrid conference added to that the following provision: “provided that they immediately notify the office or station of origin of the stoppage of said communication or any part thereof, except in cases where the issuance of this notice would appear dangerous to the security of the state.”
Although this agreement to notify the sender of any censored message was considered a step forward, the real victory at the Madrid conference was in preventing certain governments from placing more rigid restrictions on communications which would have been an invitation to make their censorships tighter.
These governments had proposed certain changes in Article of 9 of the original agreement. Czechoslovakia would have made it read: “dangerous to the security or good reputation of the State or which are contrary to the laws of the country, to public order, economic interests or to decency.”
This change Czechoslovakia sought to justify on the grounds that (a) Foreign press correspondents often send telegrams of which the text is not dangerous to the security of the State, but which can be damaging to its good reputation, and (b) It is necessary to prohibit telegrams, the contents of which are for the purpose of damaging the economic situation of a country, a city, and so on.
Austria, China and Japan proposed somewhat similar amendments. All of these proposals would “authorize governments to limit, prohibit or withhold telegrams dangerous to the security of the State, contrary to the laws of its public order and morality,” on condition that “the station of origin is notified except in those cases where such notification would be contrary to public interest.”
Although this authorization “to limit, prohibit or withhold” came under special fire of liberal journalistic elements in the United States, it was in general what came out of the Madrid conference and it was hailed as a “victory” merely because the sender was to be notified that his message had been censored.
Nevertheless, if it had not been for opposition provided by delegates from Great Britain, the United States, Canada and Russia, the restrictions might have been made much more rigid. France, Germany and Italy joined the above group in its protests against anything stricter, and the final decision was taken unanimously.
At an earlier Copenhagen Intergovernmental Press Bureau Conference, the United States representatives opposed every form of censorship, direct or indirect, and demanded that the resolutions drafted by the Press Experts’ Conference at Geneva in 1927 should be used as a minimum guarantee. Those resolutions provided:
1. That telegrams submitted to censorship should be examined by specialists and dispatched with the greatest promptitude possible.
2. That journalists should be informed of the instructions given these specialists to enable them to make their own dispositions.
3. That they should be informed of the passages suppressed in their dispatches as well as of exceptional delays in transmission, and that they should be given the option of sending or withholding the telegrams which have been either censored or delayed.
4. That the transmission charges paid in advance for telegrams which have either been censored or delayed should be refunded in proportion to the number of words suppressed.
5. That complete equality of treatment should be granted to all journalists without exception.
It is safe to say that every one of these rules has been entirely disregarded by governments which gave their full or tacit approval both to the original Geneva resolutions and to the Copenhagen agreement.
Because the United States was not a signatory of the St. Petersburg convention of 1875—the last previous important treaty governing communications—correspondents for American newspapers never had been able to get official diplomatic support for violations of that convention to which they had been the victims.
But by signing the Madrid convention in December, 1932, the United States made available to its nationals abroad, including correspondents, full diplomatic support in any complaints they had occasion to make about the treatment of their dispatches.
The requirement regularized by the Madrid conference, that notice was to be sent to correspondents when any of their messages were stopped, had a particular advantage for press associations, because they commonly send messages in short “takes” that is, a paragraph or two at a time and sometimes one “take” would be held or killed by the censor.
The receiving office would be confused at failing to receive some portion of the message, and expensive cables or telegrams would be required to straighten out the matter. Under the new arrangement, the correspondent himself would know what had been held and could act accordingly.
The provision for notification has been fairly well observed since the conference. During the first hectic days of the National Socialist regime in Germany, when a censorship was put into effect, there was so great a delay in notification as to make difficulties both for the correspondent and his newspaper, but this detail was worked out eventually to a point of reasonable satisfaction.