Editorial: War-Time Restrictions On Publication
The Case of the “Daily Mirror”
Restrictions on publication are not a wartime innovation. In peace time the publication of libellous or blasphemous statements carries its legal penalties, and there are also such Acts as the Official Secrets Act and the Incitement to Disaffection Act. Under the latter, for example, it is an offence punishable by two years’ imprisonment and a fine of £200 to endeavour, maliciously and advisedly, to seduce a member of the Forces from his duty or allegiance or to have possession of publications likely to have that effect and with intent to use them for that purpose. With the outbreak of war the restrictions became much more drastic. Defence Regulations 2c and 2d make it an offence to be concerned in the systematic publication, orally or otherwise, of matter which, in the opinion of the Secretary of State, is calculated to foment opposition to the prosecution of the war to a successful issue. Under 2c the Home Secretary can, after giving warning, proceed by way of prosecution, and the penalty on conviction may be seven years’ imprisonment or a fine of £500 or both. Under 2d the Home Secretary need not warn, and does not prosecute, but can simply stop publication and distribution of the offending journal. Since the war started various Fascist publications have been suppressed, as also the Daily Worker, without any particular protest. When, however, Mr. Herbert Morrison, on a decision of the Cabinet, informed the Daily Mirror that he would take action under 2d unless that newspaper mended its ways, many other newspapers and a number of M.P.s vigorously protested, fearing that the proposed action might be the beginning of much more drastic control of all newspapers.
It will be noticed that the Regulations rest on the opinion formed by the Home Secretary, and Mr. Morrison, speaking in the House of Commons, has stated what in his opinion constitutes an offence. On March 19th, 1942, he stated that the provisions of Regulation 2d “cover not only overt or disguised incitements to refrain from helping the war effort on the ground, for example, that the war is waged for unworthy ends, but also the publication of matter which foments opposition to the prosecution of the war by depressing public support for the war effort, by poisoning the springs of national loyalty, and by creating a spirit of despair and defeatism.” He added that the motives of the writer are not the point that matters—“the test is what effect his words may be expected to produce on the minds of others.”
He gave further information as to his opinion on March 26th in reply to a question put by Captain Gamman, M.P. The latter had drawn attention to an article in Peace News which is alleged to have expressed the view that conditions in Hong Kong under the Japanese are not much worse than they were under British rule. Mr. Morrison’s reply was: “The article referred to is one of which notice has been taken” (Times, March 27th, 1942).
The remainder of the question and answer is as follows:—
“Peace News.“—Captain Gammans (Hornsey, U.) asked the Home Secretary why “Peace News” was not banned, in view of statements made in its issue of March 13 that the raid on the Renault Works in. Paris was made to produce a momentary and false impression of activity and to keep up morale at home, that the war was precipitated by partisans of Poland and Czechoslovakia, and as it was openly asking for subscriptions, in order to carry on pacifist propaganda.
Mr. H. Morrison: A careful watch has been and is being kept on this periodical, but I have not hitherto felt that any action against it was necessary, having regard not only to the very limited class of persons to whom it appeals, but also to the expressed view of the House at the time when the Defence Regulations were under consideration that the mere expression of pacifist opinion ought not to be made an offence under the Defence Regulations. Statements such as those to which my hon. friend refers, however, and other statements which have appeared from time to time in this periodical, go beyond anything which can be regarded as the legitimate expression of pacifist views. The paper will continue to be watched, and I shall not hesitate to take appropriate action if I am satisfied that that course is necessary.
Much of the argument in the House of Commons and in the Press about the Daily Mirror case turned on the point that the Home Secretary had threatened to use 2D instead of using 2C under which the matter would have been tried in court. Mr. Morrison’s reply was that, apart from the delay involved in court proceedings, action under 2C would have the result that “the wealthy owners of a paper would get away altogether. It would be the salaried officers of the undertaking who would be taken to court, imprisoned or fined. The paper would go on with mischievous propaganda . . . .” (Manchester Guardian, 27th March, 1942.) He added the retort that he was surprised that “members who ask the Government to be speedy and decisive in their action should now ask to adopt that method.”
There is, of course, substance in the point about the difference between the two methods—another illustration of the fact that there can be no equality before the law as between the rich who can afford the expense of fines and court proceedings and the poor who cannot.
As far as the S.P.G.B. is concerned our attitude is the one we have always adopted. We are in favour of complete freedom of speech and publication for every point of view, that of our opponents as well as ourselves, but we cannot profess to be surprised that under war conditions the earlier restrictions should be greatly increased. It is a process inseparable from war and will probably result in still more restriction before the war is ended. (We notice in passing that quite a number of supporters of war do appear to be surprised: having apparently made the childish assumption that it is possible to wage war without having these necessary accompaniments of it.) While regretting that under these conditions it is not possible to publish all that we would wish to do on the war, we do not forget that the S.P.G.B. is not merely an anti-war organisation but a Socialist organisation. It is our duty as Socialists to state the case for Socialism and while it is possible to continue to do useful work we shall continue, notwithstanding our enforced inability to state all that we would like to state.