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Information, Censorship and Propaganda in World War 2

Information, Propaganda, Censorship and the Newspapers

In the Second World War, television was scarcely known. Instead people received their diet of information from newspapers, radio and motion pictures. Government in turn used the media to get out their message and shape opinion, while those on the business end of information cooperated closely, almost as if they were an arm of the government. The war was total. The cause was just. Propaganda was not a dirty word.

The government was out to stop any news or talk that would damage the Allied cause, or make Canadians doubt the war effort. As in other nations at war, the Canadian armed forces censored militarily sensitive information, whether it appeared in soldiers' letters home or in the dispatches from war correspondents at the front. A civilian Directorate of Censorship within the Department of National War Services, formed in July 1940, was responsible for the security of information in newspapers, radio and film, as well as in postal and telegraphic communications. All mail from Canadian families to prisoners of war overseas was censored for information that might be passed on to the enemy.

The government's cheerleader was the Wartime Information Board. The Board's chief for much of the time was John Grierson, who also headed the National Film Board. Grierson, like other leaders, favoured "democratic" propaganda grounded in truth but conveying a buoyant optimism about the war. The results are to be seen in wartime motion pictures, radio broadcasts, books, magazines and theatrical presentations, as well as in newspapers. The mandate of the Board and other propaganda organizations was to ensure high morale and patriotic fervour.

The newspapers of the time were full of the war. The news pages were crammed with the long dispatches of foreign correspondents from far-flung fronts and the first-hand reporting about the Canadian forces by correspondents such as Ross Munro, Gregory Clark or Peter Stursberg. The business pages explained Canadian war production and the workings of the various programs to control wages, prices, trade and supply. The domestic sections discussed food rationing and advised homemakers how to make do with shortage. Full-page government notices on every subject from recruiting rallies to scrap metal drives were inserted into the newspapers. Even the heroes of the comics fought the common enemy.

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