In my last post, I wrote about a British Censor’s Order, issued on 26th August, 1938 that required the Mandate Palestine press to base itself on an official bulletin when reporting on certain issues. These were British military or police maneuvers, and the activities of Arab rebels (this was two years into the 1936-39 Arab Revolt). I promised an update on whether the order was immediately upheld by the local press.
Here is an excerpt from the High Commissioner for Palestine’s secret dispatch to London, dated 24th October, 1938. It details how the Jewish and Arabic press responded:
“The Jewish papers have on the whole observed this instruction, both in the spirit and the letter. It has been a difficult restriction for them to obey because it renders largely superfluous the accounts of their reporters and correspondents. In that respect it is in some ways a severer measure than one prescribing a pre-publication censorship of all press matter. It has been arranged, however, that reporters may embellish the Public Information Office’s accounts of incidents, which are of necessity laconic, dry, rigorously objective, by giving some further innocuous details as, for example, the name, occupation and origin of wounded and murdered persons. In this way, the semblance of newspaper accounts has been preserved.
The Arabic press has found difficulty in observing the order because, like the rest of the Arab population, the editors are subjected to inexorable rebel pressure, and the gangs dislike publicity being given to their reverses and casualty lists. On the issue of the order, the editor of Falastin attempted to circumvent it and yet to keep his presses working by suspending the publication of Falastin [sic] and issuing instead a paper called Sirat el Mustaqim, which is an evening news sheet of insignificant reputation. Sirat el Mustaqim made no attempt to comply with Government’s order. It was accordingly suspended for three months.
This device having failed, Falastin [sic] and Ad Difa’ [sic] found themselves once more in a dilemma. On the one hand they feared that rebel threats would be implemented if they published only the official news, and on the other hand, suspension, with its attendant economic loss, if they overstepped the bound. It was an impossible choice for them and they finally solved the problem by a voluntary suspension of all the Arabic papers for a fortnight between September 3rd and October 7th, when they reappeared in order to publish accounts of the proceedings of the Arab parliamentary congress in Cairo.”