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.

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