Journalistic Integrity Threatened by WWI Restrictions

It is not entirely surprising that a large number of WWI restrictions kept people operating in numerous career fields from working at full capacity. Given the importance placed by many on keeping up with the news and devouring information as much as possible, it may be a little bit more surprising to some that a number of these WWI restrictions specifically targeted journalists in a way that made it hard for them to truthfully document the war.

Shortly after the war began, Britain implemented the Defense of the Realm Act. This allowed for the prohibiting of any writing that put a negative spin on the British government or the Allied military. The idea was not solely to keep Britons in the dark on what was happening during the war, but also to ensure that they kept faith in the troops. These WWI restrictions may appear to have stemmed from well-meaning officials who simply wanted to keep spirits high during a troubled and tumultuous time, but the truth is that the stifling of journalistic integrity also kept civilians widely uninformed as to what was going on around them.

The effects of this act mostly kept journalists from publishing articles that might have put a negative spin on British officials in general, but they were still able to publish certain facts that were not entirely positive. For instance, WWI restrictions did not keep journalists from reporting on the munitions shortage that affected the military in 1915. This led to a chain effect that changed the world of politics in Britain and resulted in the creation of a coalition government, The Guardian reports.

Even when there was threat of sanctions for doing so, not all journalists upheld the rules they were given. For instance, they were not allowed to make any reports from the battlefront. Still, many journalists ignored these WWI restrictions and made their reports anyway. Those who broke these rules most egregiously were arrested, and some of them had their lives threatened to keep them from returning to the battlefield. They knew the risks when breaking their orders in such a fashion, but they put integrity and truth above the avoidance of risks.

While WWI restrictions may have been tough, they were not impossible to subvert. Much truth was still revealed in journalism during the war, but between censorship and the sheer amount of propaganda published by many papers, it was sometimes difficult to discern fact from fiction. Information on such WWI restrictions has many people saying that such inhibitions must not be placed on journalists in the future, so as to ensure that the public always understands what is happening during any major conflict.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE