The British government, the newspapers and the German problem 1937-1939
British newspaper attitudes towards Neville Chamberlain's `appeasement' of Nazi
Germany have long attracted historical criticism; and in the now-orthodox interpretation
of Richard Cockett's Twilight of Truth (1989), the government is said to have exerted
such influence, even `control', over newspapers that criticism of its foreign policy was
effectively suppressed, and freedom of the press subverted.
This thesis reassesses government-newspaper relations from 1937 to the end of
appeasement in 1939. It argues that while government did seek to influence newspaper
comment, this was hardly a new development; and if new in intensity, this was a
reaction to the greater interwar political independence of newspapers. While making
full use of government records and private papers, in contrast to Cockett's work the
thesis also pays close attention to actual newspaper content. Newspapers with different
political stances and forms of ownership are examined, from the `establishment' Times,
the Conservative Daily Telegraph, the main Beaverbrook newspapers, The Yorkshire
Post and Manchester Guardian as examples of provincial papers, the Liberal News
Chronicle, to the main Labour opposition paper, The Daily Herald.
It is argued that newspaper independence remained strong, and `press freedom'
continued to be jealously guarded. Papers which supported government policy did so
for their own long-established reasons; others were constrained by their inconsistent
foreign-policy stances, or at dangerous periods (especially the Czechoslovakian crisis)
temporarily moderated their criticism from a sense of national responsibility, not
because of government pressure; and other newspapers remained persistently critical.
Government efforts to influence the press had very limited and sporadic success.
Moreover, not only did all major newspapers continue to report the views of antiappeasers;
tellingly, these anti-appeasers made no substantial complaints of government
suppression of alternative views. Government-newspaper relations in the late 1930s
were more complex and subtle than recent accounts have suggested.