Freedom of the Press vs. Military Censorship and Propaganda

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During the 20th century the United States military was involved in many wars. All of our military conflict used censorship and propaganda to maintain morale for the conflicts. Through policies the government implemented prevented the press from publishing information that the military deemed threating to our nation security.

They also controlled access by the press to information on or observation of military action. The public and newsmakers during wartime through censorship and propaganda are victims of the government. The censorship of information impacts how a journalist is able to report the news they have gathered. The nature of an image impacts the impression of the public causing the government to censor what is reported.

During World War II, Vietnam and the Gulf War, went from reporting in print to the use of photography and reporting through the television, which challenged the government control on the press. These technologies connected the home front with the war and kept Americans informed about the war as well as an impact on the communities. Each conflict has had its own circumstances and leaving the government faced with the process of dissemination of the images. “Despite the first amendment, during the Civil War, the military often kept reporters off the battlefield”. During World War I, the government allowed the military to censor all radio communication and all photographs taken during the war. On May 16, 1918, the government extended the Espionage and Sedition Act, nothing could be published, or the expression of an opinion given that would put the government or the war into a negative light that would impact the public. This act resulted in 75 U.S. newspapers losing mailing privileges or having to change their editorial positions.

The military Office of Censorship was created during World War II, the press had to apply for credentials and play ball with the military if they wanted access. With the press being censored the military was able to keep the public from founding out about the a-bomb until after the war. Television changed things during the Vietnam War. “However, as new memory is shaped by perceptions as much as by reality or history, it is important to underline that the perceived effects of the television coverage of the Vietnam War were based upon three flawed and related assumptions: firstly, the singularity of ‘the’ audience; secondly, its capacity to effect a change in military strategy and government policy; and thirdly, the actual proportion and unambiguous nature of graphic images of war shown on television at the time”.

The Vietnam War became known as the ‘living room war’ with the use of new technology and complete access to the battles for the reporters. “During the Gulf War, the Pentagon imposed the tightest restriction on battlefield press coverage in American military history”. Less than 100 reporters were able to talk to the servicemen and women because of the imposition of a rigid press pool system in the Gulf war which led to the detention of correspondents and protests to military authorities. “As technology has advanced, the styles of media coverage have evolved from a sole emphasis on print to more complex concentration on photography and eventually the video-dominance of modern times”. Wartime censorship is known as operation security it is how the government and military is able to deny their opponent the ability to gather information or intelligence.

The public having access to information during wartime has become a controversial proposition. Not only is it a constitutional or legal issue, it also effects the morale and support of the wartime policies, and that of an informed public. Support can turn to opposition if the public is denied access to a reasonable amount of information or deceived about public policies or events. In 1938, legislation was passed that all photograph, any sketches of military basses, were forbidden, giving the President complete authority to determine what information should have security protection.

President Roosevelt passed Executive Order 8381 in 1940, to control any vital material that was related to the possibly of war. The Office of Censorship was created after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor that resulted in the media being censored during World War II to ensure safety for the war effort. Byron Price who was the Associated Press news editor was appointed director of the Office of Censorship by the President. Price had the power to censor international communication at his discretion. “To prevent the disclosure of sensitive information during wartime requires a restraint that is distasteful to democracies, but if successful, such censorship can become what one memoir of World War II describes as a ‘weapon of silence’. All American journalist were given censorship code books with guidelines they had to adhere to. Because of the overzealous use of the espionage laws used in World War I, President Roosevelt was reluctant to exercise his authority.

World War I had a lot of strong anti-war believers and President Woodrow Wilson didn’t tolerate any criticism. Wilson proposed the Espionage Act June 15, 1917 to silence criticism, prohibited aiding the enemy and interfering with the military and their recruitment efforts. “Theodore Roosevelt protested the law, saying it was ‘a proposal to make American subjects instead of citizens”. President Wilson jailed many socialists and pacifists for criticizing war profiteering and anti-German violence. President Roosevelt believed Americans had the right to hear news about the war and there would be tension between censorship and wartime information. Roosevelt said the media information had to be accurate and their information could not help the emery. “What the press and radio appreciated about the voluntary censorship program was that it was better than the alternative”.

The government felt the lack of censorship would help the enemy and this country was built during a revolution and our press is based on the freedom of expression in our first amendment, in controlling the media could cause the public to distrust. “When the Office Of Censorship released its guidelines for domestic censorship on January 15, 1942-a-seven-page, church bulletin-sized pamphlet for radio service station and a five-page version for newspapers and magazine-many broadcasters were surprised that they had escaped direct federal control”. One code was devised for all broadcast stations even for the stations near the borders that posed a greater threat to security. The government felt having one code would contribute to a feeling of wartime unity.

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Freedom of the Press vs. Military Censorship and Propaganda. (2020, Sep 20). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/freedom-of-the-press-vs-military-censorship-and-propaganda/

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