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.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Battle for Hearts & Minds

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 that included the radio 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. 

Joseph Plunkett 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 communiqués issued by the rebels from their station in O'Connell Street on Tuesday and Wednesday of Easter Week. 

Newspapers were heavily censored in the UK due to the implementation of the Defence 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 rebels did publish one edition of their own newspaper ‘Irish War News, The Irish Republic’ on Tuesday of Easter week.

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 was anxious to keep US public opinion on their side in the battle against Germany in World War One as the United States was still a neutral nation. 

While all reports in the UK press were copied from official Government communiqués, 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 communiqués. 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 communiqués 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 Caernarvon in Wales via the Press Bureau.

In a report in New York’s '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' was slanting the view and exaggerating the influence of the Germans in the Rising. In the space of seven paragraphs the rebels were referred to as 'rebels', 'rioters','revolutionists' and 'a mob'. 

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. 

There is an interesting piece in the New York Tribune printed on Easter Sunday, the day BEFORE the Rising started with the paper was already reporting 'disturbances' in Dublin. 'Rumours of political rioting has reached Berlin' began the article which had been sent on the wires from Europe on Saturday. Despite disbelief by the newspaper in much of the news dispatched via Amsterdam they did conclude that there was at that stage serious rioting on the east coast of Ireland and that the areas were under military control.

The strange aspect to the story is that the report is attributed to the 'Overseas News Agency' which was in fact a British covert propaganda operation run by the British in the United States. The ONA would feed stories to the US media especially The New York Tribune who having picked up the story would in turn be the source for other media outlets lending credence to whatever story the British wanted published.

More complicated and efficient propaganda battles would be fought in the future but the 1916 Easter Rising was the first to be fought across a multi media battleground. 

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