February 8, 2017

1936. Europe in a Propaganda War

The International Flood of News Propaganda
Italian fascist propaganda poster entitled "Dux" by artist Uberto Bonetti, 1933 (source)
This article is part of a series of posts on how newspapers covered the rise of Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler in Italy and Germany prior to World War II. In 1936, New York Times correspondent Harold Callender reported on the epidemic of propaganda disguised as radio news.

From The New York Times, May 31, 1936:
Mussolini Seeking to Undermine Britain's Prestige by Means of Radio Broadcasts


London, May 29 — Flushed with his victory over Ethiopia and over British diplomacy, Premier Benito Mussolini seems determined to follow up his advantage by further undermining British prestige in the eastern Mediterranean as far as this can be done with propaganda.

This is the interpretation placed here upon the anti-British radio broadcasts systematically sent out from Italian stations to listeners in Palestine, Egypt and nearby countries in Europe, Asia and Africa. Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden has just told Parliament that the British Government is carefully watching these hostile broadcasts and has "made representations" regarding them to Italy.

But the broadcasts are continuing. Having sprayed Ethiopia with mustard gas Mussolini now sprays Ethiopia's neighbors with radio propaganda—two distinctive products of European civilization which conveniently supplement each other as devices for persuading backward nations to let themselves be led into the light of European culture.

For culture and politics go hand in hand. Ethiopians who survived the political lesson of poison gas will learn Italian and participate in "Roman civilization." In the Italian broadcasts in the Near East operatic music is generously mingled with the glorification of fascism and attacks on the British.

Other Continental radio stations likewise supply to listeners at home and abroad a judicious mixture of elevating entertainment and political guidance. Mozart and Hitler go on the air together, Verdi and Mussolini are companion radio performers, and no properly trained totalitarian would imagine there was anything incongruous with this association.

From the Italian radio station at Bari broadcasts at the Mediterranean littoral are given daily in the principal languages spoken there—Greek, Arabic, Serbian, Croatian, Italian, as well as English. Political discourses are sandwiched into cultural programs.

Broadcasts to Far East

Bari broadcasts also to the Far East and North American in English, to South American in Spanish and Portuguese and to Northern Europe in French, German and English, thus taking in most of the world.

The propaganda from this station as well as others in Europe is usually disguised as news and consists extensively of quotations and newspaper comments. By an ingenious selection of extracts from an article the Italian broadcaster can convey the impression that the world's press, including even the liberal papers, overflows with enthusiasm for fascism.

The confusion of news with propaganda is natural and, perhaps, not wholly conscious on the Continent where impartial news is an almost unknown quantity and where the press is mostly subsidized or government control. In dictatorial countries news and propaganda are one and are under official direction, and newspapers in Central and Eastern Europe generally are equally biased.

Consequently radio listeners there—as in Mediterranean countries—have no informative press to counteract the effect of wireless propaganda.

With their customary thoroughness the Germans arrange shortwave programs weeks ahead so that agents abroad may distribute them and thus prepare foreign audiences for "news." The Munich station was largely devoted to stirring up revolt in Austria, which resulted in the murder of Chancellor Eagelbert Dollfuss. Strasbourg broadcasts in French and German "news" which displeases the Nazis. Moscow has powerful stations to explain the virtues of Bolshevism in ten Oriental and European languages. Hungary and Czechoslovakia lately had a radio war, each using the other's language.

Effectiveness Overestimated

Some radio specialists in London are inclined to believe that the effectiveness of these propaganda broadcasts is overestimated because comparatively few people in Eastern countries have receiving sets, because the "news" is rather dull and political harangues grow wearisome.

Britain is the only country which is not indulging in this form of propaganda. The Palestine post office, which is under British administration, broadcasts entertainment and news but it is said here that this is real news and not the continental variety.

The British Broadcasting Corporation, which enjoys a monopoly, makes no broadcasts to any foreign tongue—as it would do if it made propaganda—and its news is invariably objective and uncolored. It is the totalitarian States which have gone furthest in using the radio to regiment and standardize the minds of subjects and woo foreign populations.

Their propagandists regard the British broadcasting system as a wonderful instrument which is woefully misused because, as one German commentator put it, it has no cultural value since it promotes not the national view but "every sort of opinion." The British find that remark the highest possible compliment.