Press Censorship and the Terrace Mutiny: A Case Study in Second World War Information Management

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Press Censorship and the Terrace Mutiny: A Case Study in Second World War Information Management

DANIEL GERMAN

During the Second World War the Canadian government employed a system of voluntary press censorship to prevent the publication of information harmful to military security. In November 1944, an anti - conscription mutiny broke out in the 15th Infantry Brigade based in Terrace, British Columbia. Terrified that the mutiny would spread, the military and government pressured the censors to increase the stringency of their application of the Defence of Canada Regulations to down - play news of the outbreak. The censors resisted this pressure, arguing that the existing system adequately protected military security. Greatly disturbed by these demands, the censors felt that increased censorship was harmful to freedom of the press. Following the end of the mutiny the censors determined that the voluntary press censorship system did prevent the publication of inflammatory information; if anything, the press had been far too quick to censor the news, and individual freedom would have been better served by the media disputing more of their decisions. Second World War press censorship was a successful system which effectively prevented the publication of harmful material. Torn between their duties and their ethical concerns, censors also demonstrated the moral ambiguities of war in arguing against censorship.

A civil servant who is ordered to do something he regards as unwise, unethical, illegal has two choices. He can try to persuade his minister that the request should not be pursued, or he can resign. A civil servant cannot impose his will on a minister of the crown; that would be bureaucracy running wild.(f.1)

Since it can be claimed that an informed populace is a freer populace, censorship may be considered as inimical to the ideals of a democratic society. None the less, censorship was a pervasive element of Canadian society during the Second World War. Censors read the mail, listened over the telephone lines, examined telegraph messages and generally tried to prevent the dissemination of any information deemed harmful to the nation's interests. Perhaps the most important form of this censorship was that used in connection with the news media, which is examined in this paper as it was employed to deal with one specific event: the mutiny of an infantry brigade in Terrace, British Columbia, in late 1944.

The censorship imposed on the reporting of this event was part of a long tradition of military and governmental control of the media in times of military action. For as long as warfare and news media have co - existed, a good account of military affairs has proven an excellent avenue for the media to increase sales. With the development of improved communications, however, military authorities became concerned that the publication of military news might disclose information of value to an enemy. It is hardly surprising, then, that a history of war correspondents has credited the innovation of military censorship to the Crimean War, which it also identifies as the first conflict where the media actively and deliberately sought out military information for publication.(f.2)

Control of military information has come to be systemized and carefully arranged by governments who have at times been as concerned with showing their best face as with ensuring that sensitive information not fall into the wrong hands. Studies of Canadian censorship during the First and Second World Wars have shown that censorship during those wars concerned all news items, and was not merely limited to material directly pertaining to the military.(f.3)

In recent years such attempts by the state to control media access to military information were evident in careful management of the media in the Gulf War, and by the media - military relations during confrontations between the military and Native Canadians in the summer of 1990. …