Our friendly and excellent guides are available as Step On Guides for any visiting tour or coach operators who may like a unique, entertaining and educational tour of Irish History and the events of Easter Week 1916.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

1916 & The Propaganda War Over The Airwaves

A British Soldier protecting the Valentia Wireless station in 1916

In a paper given on December 1, 2000 by Jonathan A. Epstein 'German and English Propaganda in WW1' explained that,
     'One function of propaganda is to put forward one’s own view of the world and its history.  This was played out during the Great War by competing allegations about responsibility for the war (naturally, neither side admitted guilt in this matter), atrocities, and political superiority.  The British generally took the offensive in these matters.'

One of the first propaganda battles of the airwaves was the Easter Rising as both the rebels and The British attempted to dictate the news narrative.

Communications were heavily hampered by actions on both sides as the rebels attempted to prevent the British calling in reinforcements and the British smothering the rebels attempts to contact forces around the country and any outside agencies that maybe helping the rebellion. 

While newspapers were heavily censored in the UK due to the implementation of the Defense of the Realm Act their first reports came primarily from Irish Secretary Augustine Birrell news delivered to the House of Commons, while the mainstream press in Ireland halted due to both the battles on the streets and the declaration of martial law. 

The battle moved to the hearts and minds of those outside Ireland especially in the United States and the large Irish immigrant community who had financially assisted in the planning of the Rising. Britain were anxious to keep US public opinion on their side in the battle against Germany in World War One as the United States were still a neutral nation. 

While all reports in the UK press were copied from official Government communiques the US press were harder to control and it was done with the use of wireless on both sides of the Rising. 

Many of the US newspapers received their news from wire services. In August 1914 the British Government created the Press Bureau with the intention to gather news and telegraphic reports from the British Army and then censor it and issue the sanitized version to the press. The Bureau allowed neutral journalists (The US was still neutral in April 1916) to write their own articles after providing official communiques. This was of major importance to American journalists. This helped camouflage the source of the propaganda, making it more acceptable to the reading public.

The official communiques reprinted often without a by line, simply a 'report from London'
began to appear on Tuesday in New York and Washington with the official line from the UK Government which had been wireless telegraphed from Caernavon in Wales via the Press Bureau.

In a report in the 'Evening World' on Tuesday the GPO had been captured by rebels but had almost immediately been retaken by British forces. The 'revolution in Ireland had been planned by the German Government' slanting the view and exaggerating the influence of the Germans on the Rising. In the space of seven paragraphs the rebels were referred to as 'rebels', 'rioters','revolutionists' and 'a mob'. 

The rebels realised in planning the Rising that the British would attempt to control all communications and therefore the setting up of the rebel radio station in Reis's Chambers allowed an alternative view to be broadcast and those reports then wireless telegraphed to non partisan newspapers through the London based International News Service owned and operated by the Hearst family. Some newspapers in the US reported word for word the communiques issued by the rebels from their station in O'Connell Street on Tuesday and Wednesday of Easter Week. 

Newspapers reported that wireless messages had been received by Irish American organisations in New York from Ireland but some papers countered this by stating that was impossible as 'cipher messages out of Ireland were impossible due to a strict British ban on cipher messages'. And while many of the news reports were certainly fanciful, rumour based and displayed a vivid imagination by some Irish Americans of exactly what was happening on the streets of Dublin, we know now that the Ring brothers did telegraph news of the Rising launch from the Valentia Wireless station in the early days of the Rising before the British gained control of Valentia. 

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