No. 395 NAI DFA 205/84

Letter from Frederick H. Boland to Thomas J. Coyne (Dublin)

Dublin, 13 January 1941

Dear Tommy,1

I am sorry that I have not been able to write you before now, as I promised, about the Italian Minister's2 representations with regard to the Press.

As I told you, the Italian Minister has been assailing us, ever since the outbreak of the War in Greece, about the way in which news of the Italian military campaigns is presented in the daily newspapers, particularly in the Irish Press. We have not given him much satisfaction. We told him that in our view there was nothing in our papers to which anyone could point as departing from the general duty of objectivity and impartiality. We made the suggestion (for which I think there is a good deal of ground) that what he was really complaining about was the fact that the news of Italian defeats was printed at all! When he referred once or twice to the failure of the newspapers here to publish certain Italian statements or official commentaries, we said we felt quite certain that the papers make impartial use of any Italian news they receive, and that any suggestion that there was power to tell the papers what they must print, as opposed to what they must not print on censorship grounds, was quite unwarranted.

When the Italian Minister last spoke to me about this matter, however, I pointed out to him that he had always discussed it in the terms of the widest generalities and that he had never yet given us a concrete example of what he was complaining about. He undertook to repair this omission and he has now sent me a bundle of newspapers marked to illustrate his points. From this material, the substance of the Italian complaint appears to be:-

  • That the newspapers, and the 'Irish Press' more than the other papers, take their headlines exclusively from the British and Greek official communiqués and Press despatches presenting their statements as facts. The statements made in the Italian communiqués are usually referred to only in minor column cross-headings and are described as 'claims'.
  • On occasion, the papers make scare headlines of mere phrases in British Press despatches which are wounding to Italy and tend to magnify, and give an exaggerated idea of, Italian reverses.
  • The principal example of this is the headline 'Flower of Italy's Army Scattered' in the 'Irish Press' of the 29th November.
  • That in the papers, and once again in the 'Irish Press' more than others, the British and Greek news is always put at the head of the column and the Italian version is placed at the very end of the news under some such heading as 'Italian communiqué', 'Italian claims', etc. Even when the Italian communiqué reported relatively major developments – and, according to the Italian Minister, the campaign in Greece was not always one-sided – no prominence whatever was given to the Italian official report. For example, on the 29th November an Italian communiqué referring to the local Italian successes was printed in the 'London Times' but not in the 'Irish Press'.

The points, and a number of others as well, are referred to in the attached copy of an 'aide-memoire' left with us by the Italian Minister since we last spoke.3

As you will see, the complaint does not come to very much. It amounts to little more than saying that the newspapers publish the Press Association report as they get it; and it, of course, tends to minimise and discount the Italian version.

Still, I thought you had better know of Berardis' representations. We don't intend to approach you officially about the matter because there doesn't seem to us to be any real substance in the complaint; but at the same time, from the point of view of avoiding friction and keeping our Italian friend in an amenable frame of mind, if you do find it desirable and practicable to take any action on the representations we shall be just as glad!

[stamped] (signed F.H. Boland)

1 Marginal note by Boland: 'Copy with encl.[osure] sent to Mr. F. Gallagher for personal information. F.B. 14/1'.

2 Vincenzo Berardis (born 1889), Counsellor, Italian Embassy, Moscow (1933-8); Minister to Dublin (1938-44).

3 Not printed.

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