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Introduction

Throughout World War II, the Australian government centralised Australia's economy and war effort. While co-ordinating Australia's labour market and directing labour to critical war industries, the government also conducted a policy of censorship.

The government controlled information that was made public - in printed media, on the radio, and other forms of communication. The censorship was conducted to prevent important information about Australia's war time strategies and capabilities becoming known to the enemy and to shield Australia from bad news and promote enthusiasm for the war. Censorship sometimes involved propaganda.

Censorship

Censorship is a sensitive issue for democratic countries such as Australia, the United States and Britain, as freedom of speech is one of the cornerstones of Western democracy. In times of political turmoil and war, however, varying degrees of censorship, filtering and controlling information have been adopted. See image 1

In Australia during World War II, the government exercised significant powers over censorship and the release of sensitive information to the public. The government created the Department of Information, overseen by the Director-General of Information, newspaper-owner Keith Murdoch. The department was given wide-ranging powers to suppress (not publish, not allow to make known) information and direct newspapers towards a government-approved opinion - there was no dissent allowed.
 
Censorship was seen not only as an important tool to stop the enemy from learning important information, but also to maintain public morale and enthusiasm for the war which seemed, for much of the time, far from home.
 
There were many things to suppress. Australia was not prepared for war. The military forces were depleted, ships and planes obsolete, troops untrained. The Department of Information had to cover the government's unpreparedness for war.
 
Censorship was not always welcomed in Australia. By 1942, many Australians were widely aware of the government's role in handing out information. Censorship was resented and criticised - it was seen as the government withholding the truth and manipulating the Australian public. Some Australians were deeply mistrustful of the information published by the government.
 
One example of government censorship occurred when Japanese planes conducted two devastating air raids over Darwin in February 1941. In a newspaper article published on 21 February in the Melbourne Argus it was recorded:
 
'17 killed in raids on Darwin, 6 enemy planes shot down… In 2 air raids on Darwin yesterday it is believed that the total casualties were 17 killed and 24 wounded. Nine of the civilian fatalities were members of the Darwin Post Office staff, including the postmaster, his wife, and daughter. Latest information received at RAAF headquarters indicates that in yesterday's raids no vital damage was done to RAAF installations…'
 
In reality, 243 people died in the raids, and there were 300-400 casualties. This is an example of how the government used censorship to suppress information about the extent of the damage done in the Japanese air raids in an attempt to prevent panic among the Australian public.

Propaganda

Propaganda involves the government presenting a certain type of message to the public aimed at influencing public opinion, often appealing to emotions.

The propaganda can take the form of posters, radio programs, film reels - any type of media which can be communicated to a wide audience easily.
 
Often propaganda provides important sentiments about contemporary issues but, after the event, can be understood as discriminating and stereotypical.
 
Australia in World War I had a very prolific propaganda machine. Often the propaganda degraded the Germans and emphasised Western power over them. The propaganda was intended to drum up support for the Australian war effort while vilifying the Germans.
 
Much of the Australian propaganda pieces of World War II were directed towards the Japanese. Slogans were popular - 'We've Always Despised Them - Now We Must Smash Them' and 'Every One A Killer'.
 
The Japanese soldier was stereotyped as small, black haired, buck-toothed, wearing big thick glasses and having tiny eyes. The Department of Information launched a propaganda campaign which stirred up hatred for the Japanese. See image 2
 
Propaganda was aimed at creating fear and hatred which today would be considered as racial discrimination. Propaganda and censorship worked together to create a mood in Australia which vilified the enemy, dulled down defeats, emphasised victories and ensured the Australians would accept government changes to society for the greater good - the war effort.

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Question 1/5

1. Which department controlled censorship?

Department of Information

Department of Censorship

Ministry of Information

Department of Propaganda

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