In the service of Empire: Reuters and the Australian press during World War 1

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    This paper examines the role of the London-based international news agency, Reuters, in distributing propaganda news in Australia during World War I. This story is told against the backdrop of the development in Britain during the course of the War of a comprehensive system of propaganda production and distribution, both for audiences at home and overseas, in which the British press played a willing and integral role. This development culminated in the establishment of a British Ministry of Information in March 1918 headed by the press baron, Lord Beaverbrook. During the War, Reuters continued to publicly avow its editorial independence and freedom from British Government control. However, during the course of the War, Reuters came under increasing Government influence and developed into a key instrument of Britain’s propaganda machinery, particularly in the distribution of propaganda-inspired news throughout neutral countries, America and the British Empire.

    In the course of the War, Australia established its own machinery for distributing officially sanctioned news to the Australian press through the despatches of official war correspondents, Charles Bean and G.L. Gilmour, whose glorified reports of Australians at war were designed to increase morale at home and inspire enlistment. Australia also established its own Directorate of Propaganda in October 1918. However, the Australian public’s main source of war news was via London through news agencies which provided a link between the British Government’s war information services and the Australian press. As the War progressed, Reuters became the most prominent player in the distribution of propaganda news to Australia largely because of its close links with British Government information agencies and the financial support it received from the British Government. As the War continued, public support for it waned in Australia and other parts of the British Empire and recruitment became increasingly difficult. Attempts to introduce conscription in Australia failed to gain majority support in referenda on the issue. The maintenance of pro-war sentiment became an increasing priority both in Britain and within the Empire leading to a greater emphasis on ‘internal’ imperial propaganda. This paper argues that Reuters’ introduction of its Supplementary Imperial Service on 19 March 1917 was a particularly significant development as it marked Reuters’ explicit adoption of a propaganda mission within the Empire. This is evident in editorial guidelines especially prepared for this service. All Australian mainstream newspapers played a significant role in the distribution of propaganda. There were, however, significant differences amongst newspapers in their use of and editorial stance towards propaganda materials. This paper argues that Australian newspapers which subscribed directly to Reuters’ news feeds, which included the Sun in Sydney, the Herald in Melbourne and the majority of Australia’s provincial press, played an especially prominent role in the distribution of British propaganda
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationCommunication and Citizenship
    Subtitle of host publicationRethinking Crisis and Change
    EditorsManuel Pinto, Helena de Sousa
    Place of PublicationPortugal
    Number of pages1
    ISBN (Print)9789898377159
    Publication statusPublished - 2010
    EventCommunication and Citizenship: Rethinking Crisis and Change - Braga, Braga, Portugal
    Duration: 18 Jul 201022 Jul 2010


    ConferenceCommunication and Citizenship
    Abbreviated titleIAMCR 2010
    Internet address


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