Daily Mirror Cartoon.

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons on 19th March 1942.

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Photo of Mr Herbert Morrison Mr Herbert Morrison , Hackney South

The cartoon in question is only one example, but a particularly evil example, of the policy and methods of a newspaper which, intent on exploiting an appetite for sensation and with a reckless indifference to the national interest and to the prejudicial effect on the war effort, has repeatedly published scurrilous misrepresentations, distorted and exaggerated statements and irresponsible generalisations. In the same issue the leading article stated: … the accepted tip for Army leadership would, in plain truth, be this:—All who aspire to mislead others in war should be brass-buttoned boneheads, socially prejudiced, arrogant and fussy. A tendency to heart disease, apoplexy, diabetes and high blood pressure is desirable in the highest posts … Reasonable criticism on specific points and persons is one thing; general, violent denunciation, manifestly tending to undermine the Army and depress the whole population, is quite another. Such insidious attacks are not to be excused by calls in other parts of the paper for more vigorous action. The Press in general recognises that the principle of freedom for the expression of opinion which Parliament and the Government are determined to maintain imposes on newspaper proprietors, editors and journalists an obligation to exercise that freedom with a proper sense of responsibility, and that if a particular paper so abuses that freedom that the war effort is hindered, that abuse is as injurious to the interests of the Press itself as to the national interest. The Government have decided that the right method of dealing with a newspaper which persistently disregards its public responsibility and the national interest is to make use of the powers contained in Defence Regulation 2D, which authorises the suppression of a paper that systematically publishes matter calculated to foment opposition to the successful prosecution of the war. The issue raised in such a case is—Will the continued publication of such a paper prejudice the successful prosecution of the war? On such a question it is incumbent on the Government to form a judgment, subject always to their responsibility to Parliament.

The provisions of Defence Regulation 2D cover not only overt or disguised incitements to refrain from helping the war effort on the ground, for example, that the war is waged for unworthy ends, but also the publication of matter which foments opposition to the prosecution of the war by depressing public support for the war effort, by poisoning the springs of national loyalty, and by creating a spirit of despair and defeatism. The fact that those responsible for the publication of such matter may not deliberately and wilfully desire to hinder the success of the Allied cause does not make the publication any less dangerous. A writer's motives and intentions are known only to himself. The test is what effect his words may be expected to produce on the minds of others. The systematic publication of matter likely to spread a spirit of defeatism and to dissuade people from supporting the war effort, is not outside the scope of Regulation 2D because such matter is published with a reckless and unpatriotic indifference to its harmful effect rather than with a deliberate intention to produce such an effect. As it is possible that some of the persons responsible for the publication of such matter have not realised that it is within the ambit of Regulation 2D, it has been thought right in the first instance to take action by way of warning. I have seen those responsible for the publication of the "Daily Mirror," and I have made clear to them the considerations which I have outlined to the House. A watch will be kept on this paper and the course which the Government may ultimately decide to take will depend on whether those concerned recognise their public responsibility and take care to refrain from further publication of matter calculated to foment opposition to the successful prosecution of the war.