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133 Mr M. MacDonald, U.K. Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs, to Mr J. A. Lyons, Prime Minister

Circular Cablegram B37 LONDON, 10 March 1938, 10.02 p.m.


Following for Prime Minister: With a view to improving the
atmosphere and also increasing the sense of responsibility here
more especially at a time when an attempt is being made to bring
about better relations with foreign countries generally, the
Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs [1] is shortly calling a
United Kingdom Press Conference at the Foreign Office which he
proposes to address on the following lines:-

We live in a free country with a free Press and none of us would
wish to change in any way that happy state of affairs. Freedom
implies freedom to criticise and I would not dream of asking you
to cease from exercising that right. But it also implies
responsibility and when it comes to unguarded criticisms of other
countries especially of heads of states or of Governments it may
be a big national responsibility. I presume we are all agreed that
in the present state of Europe nobody here wishes to make the
situation worse by needless provocation. Many things may be done
in other countries of which we do not approve and I have no doubt
that on matters of importance the British press will wish to
express disapproval but disapproval is a very different thing in
its effect abroad from abusive criticism or pin pricking or from
too great readiness to accept and publish rumours before their
correctness has been verified. All these things do great damage
not only to our reputation abroad but seriously impede any
official effort to remove misunderstandings and improve relations.

Some countries can and do control their Press by official
instructions. We neither do this nor do we wish to do it, but we
can control ourselves and I merely ask you in the general
interests to do what you can in any way that you feel you
legitimately can to respond to this appeal which I should not make
to you if I were not acutely conscious of its importance.

Either the Prime Minister [2] or the Foreign Secretary will talk
on similar lines to the Chairman of the Newspaper Proprietors'
Association and also to the Director-General of the British
Broadcasting Corporation. It will be made clear to the latter that
what is being said is not an instruction from the United Kingdom
Government but merely an expression of a desire on their part that
the B.B.C. should bear in mind the extreme sensitiveness of both
Hitler and Mussolini to the B.B.C. 'talks' and presentation of
news in order that the difficulties on this score should be
eliminated or reduced as far as possible.

In his recent conversations with Herr Hitler (see my telegram
Circular B. 36 of 7th March [3]) His Majesty's Ambassador at
Berlin [4] informed the Chancellor in strict confidence of the
gist of the foregoing. He was instructed to make it clear that His
Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom have done all in their
power and have indeed taken an unusual step in order to show their
sincere desire to improve the atmosphere and to facilitate
conversations with the German Government.

1 Viscount Halifax.

2 Neville Chamberlain.

3 Not printed.

4 Sir Nevile Henderson.

[ANL : PAGE 759]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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