January 26, 2017

Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany Target the Press

The Fascist Crackdown on the Press
Nazi leaders at a party rally in the 1930s. From left to right: Adolf Hitler, Hermann Göring, Joseph Goebbels, Rudolf Hess (source)
This article is part of a series of posts on how newspapers covered the rise of fascism. The regimes in Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany targeted the free press soon after taking power, shuttering papers and broadcasters who did not follow the party line and accusing them of peddling lies.

From The New York Times, October 6, 1933:
Heavy Penalty Is Set for Any Article Against Nazis, With Death for 'Treason'
Propaganda Minister Becomes Dictator of System That Includes Special Courts


BERLIN, Oct. 5 — The Hitler government made public today the text of its National Press Law, under the terms of which every working newspaper man in Germany becomes a servant of the State. He will be licensed as such through membership in the National Press Federation and will be held morally and legally responsible to the State for his professional activities.

[Other laws established the death penalty for publication of treasonable articles or introduction of them from abroad, according to The Associated Press. Prison sentences, with a maximum of five years, were set for the distribution of "atrocity" or anti-Nazi material.]

Incidentally the law delegates to Dr. Paul Joseph Goebbels, the Minister of Propaganda and Enlightenment, a dictatorship second only to that wielded by Chancellor Hitler, and if the weapon placed in his hands fails to yield national control of all press activities in the new State, it will be only because of his omission to make full use of the sweeping mandate making him master of the German press in all its branches.

The law's provisions were forecast a fortnight ago, but were explained in detail to newspaper men today by Dr. Goebbels.

Calling it "the most modern journalistic statute" in the world, he said he expected it to serve as a model for other countries.

Stringent Rules Are Set

Journalism as a free profession becomes a thing of the past in the Third Reich and in its place there is created a sort of personal union between the individual newspaper worker and the State, with the profession hedged in by stringent rules and regulations.

The Aryan racial provision contained in the civil service code has also been incorporated in the new press law, and unless it is later modified even Aryan newspaper men with Jewish wives will be barred from the profession. The law also puts an end to anonymity and sheers the publisher of his right to determine the contents and policy of his newspaper.

It abolishes the position of the "responsible editor," who, under the old press laws, was held responsible for the contents of each issue. He usually was a nondescript individual who was prepared to go to jail for errors made by regular staff men.

Dr. Goebbels summed up his explanations by observing that since the press had a distinctive educational function to perform, it behooved the State to stand watch over it just as it did over the national educational programs.

Scope of the New Law

The new law applies to all persons who "take a share in forming the mental contents of any newspaper or political periodical through the written word, reports or pictures." It thus embraces publishers, editors, writers, artists and camera men.

Government publications are specifically exempt from the law, and by implication scientific, technical and trade periodicals are exempt provided they qualify as non-political. Discretionary power is vested in the Propaganda Minister to determine what makes a periodical political.

The professional work of newspaper men under the law has the character of a "public task" regulated by the State with respect to duties and rights.

To be admitted to the profession of journalism, the candidate must fulfill the Aryan clause of the Civil Service Act. That is, he must have no Jewish element in his ancestry as far back as his grandparents. The same applies to the wives of those who are married.

"Consecration" is Required

The candidate must also be a German citizen in full possession of civil rights, must be 21 years old, legally responsible and professionally trained. Finally, he must have the "consecration requisite for the task of influencing the public."

In the discretion of the Propaganda Minister, the Aryan clause may be waived or modified "in exceptional cases." So also may the requirement of German citizenship in favor of non-citizens "of German stock."

The section establishing a professional code for newspaper men reads:

"It is the duty of journalists to treat their subject matter truthfully and to judge according to their best knowledge.

"In particular, they have the duty to keep out of the newspapers:

"1. Anything that intermingles private good and public good in a manner misleading to public opinion.

"2. Matter calculated to weaken the power of the Reich at home or abroad, the community will of the German people, its military spirit or its culture and economy, or that tends to offend religious sentiments.

"3. Anything in conflict with the honor and dignity of Germans.

"4. Matter that unlawfully injures the honor or welfare of any individual, hurts his reputation or draws him into ridicule or contempt.

"5. Anything that is unethical on any other grounds.

Public Respect Is Aim

"Journalists must be conscientious in the performance of their professional duties, and, outside these, they must show themselves, by their conduct, worthy of the respect their profession calls for."

Responsibility for publication is apportioned among the writer of an article, the editor who passes on it and the editor-in-chief.

The new law also requires the publication in every copy of the newspaper of the names of the managing editor, assistant managing editors and all department heads.

All licensed journalists are gathered together in the National Press Federation, which has the status of a public corporation. Its president is appointed by the Propaganda Ministers. Dr. Goebbels has already named Dr. Otto Dietrich to this post.

The federation's by-laws shall be drawn up by its president, with the advice and consent of Dr. Goebbels. Under this national federation are State federations. Membership is compulsory.

The federation is empowered, subject to the Propaganda Minister's approval, to make provision for training newspaper men and to set up welfare institutions for their benefit. It can levy assessments, "which shall be collected like taxes." It shall further act as a board of arbitration in disputes between its members.

For adjudication of violations of the press law, a system of professional courts is created—a Reich Press Court in Berlin and lower district courts in several States.

These courts also have the ultimate decision in cases of disputes as to admissibility to or expulsion from membership in the journalistic profession.

Appointment of all the judges of these courts is vested in the Propaganda Minister. In each court, the presiding judge must have the qualifications required in regular law courts. His associates on the bench shall be publishers and newspaper men. The rules of procedure shall be laid down by Dr. Goebbels, in agreement with the Minister of Justice.

Direct protection is offered to newspaper men by the provision that practically deprives the publisher of the power of discharge for reasons of his own, and virtually vests dismissals as well as hiring in the hands of the State.

Severe penalties are threatened for violation of the law. Any one engaging in newspaper activities without being licensed is subject to imprisonment for a year. Inducing any newspaper man by bribery or threat to commit any violation of the law is punishable by imprisonment and a fine.

Licensed publishers also face imprisonment and a fine for infractions of the law, such as employing or accepting contributions from unlicensed persons.

The foreign correspondents of Germans newspapers also come under the new law.
Death Penalty Is Included 


BERLIN, Oct. 5 — The Reich today threw out the window the principle of the freedom of the press as understood in America, set up the death penalty for the circulation of treasonable articles and placed German newspaper workers under the thumb of the authorities.

A series of drastic laws passed by the Cabinet and signed by Chancellor Hitler made the publishing of treasonable articles or the introduction of them into Germany from abroad punishable by death and made journalism a licensed profession in which aryanism and Nazi patriotism were set up as necessary qualifications.

Penitentiary sentences ranging up to five years were provided for those distributing "atrocity" or anti-Nazi material.
Benito Mussolini speaks before a crowd in Ancona, Italy on November 3, 1932 (source)
From The New York Times, December 7, 1922:
Threat to Muzzle the Italian Press Is Made in Mussolini's Milan Paper

ROME, Dec. 6 — The Mussolini newspaper in Milan, Il Popolo d'Italia, which since Benito Mussolini became Premier has been edited by his brother Arnaldo, publishes an article which is obviously inspired and which gives a grave warning to the Italian press in general and the Roman press in particular that unless newspapers cease publishing false and misleading news the Government is going to muzzle them. The appearance of this article in what may be termed the present Cabinet's official mouthpiece has caused great anxiety by the Italian press.

The article says:

"The problem of the press—especially the Roman press—is beginning to preoccupy the Government. The irresponsible lightness and crookedness with which both external and internal politics are treated is appalling. Today's newspapers, for instance, are full of pure inventions. They speak of things which have not occurred and never will occur.

"The newspaper Il Mondo assures its readers, without knowing anything about it, that Mussolini at the London meeting will support Poincarré, which may be correct, but may also be false.

"The newspaper Epoca has large headlines spreading over several columns to report in about ten lines an insignificant incident of violence near Naples in which some Fascisti were involved.

"We cannot go on in this way. We are assured that the Government has decided to impose discipline even on the newspapers. Considering the thoughtless manner in which the newspapers act, nobody will be surprised if the Government adopts a censorship or even severer measures."

It is significant that both newspapers in this article belong to ex-Premier Nitti, whom the Fascisti hate more than any other man in Italy. The offices of these papers were occupied by Fascisti when they entered Rome at the end of October, but were again evacuated early in November. Since that time they have abandoned their extreme anti-Fascisti viewpoint, refraining from attacking the Fascisti openly.