No. 214 NAI DFA Unregistered Papers

Memorandum by Joseph P. Walshe entitled 'State Publicity - General Principles'

Dublin, 13 December 1933


State publicity has come to be regarded as a necessity even in old established States. It is indispensable in a country like ours where the people have to be guided into new ways of life and consequently into new ways of thought. We shall never adopt the means necessary to develop a system of efficient State publicity unless we are convinced beforehand of its urgent necessity. And there is no country in Europe, outside the Balkans, where the need is so pressing. Owing to the Irish back garden policy of the British under the old regime and the altogether too snail-like pace of our reforms since we got control of our own affairs, the very great majority of our people are still profoundly ignorant of - and indifferent to - most of the things that make for a decent individual or state life.

The Church in Ireland with its huge organization for propaganda should have been able to help the people towards a better material existence, an appreciation of the beauty of religion, of art, and of everything that makes life worth living. It has failed because it has departed from the ideals of the universal Church and concentrated the minds of the people on one or two negative Commandments to the exclusion of the general teaching of Christ. It has failed also because it has been wanting in steadfast, purposeful direction with a single-minded aim, and it has given us an example of how little can be achieved in even a great organisation without driving force at the helm. Whatever the Church may do in relation to religious teaching, it has the elements of an organisation the aid of which the State should enlist in the material and cultural evolution of the people.

Undeniably State propaganda has played a very large part in the successful emergence of Italy, Japan and Germany. The U.S.A. under NIRA1 is converting its huge population through State propaganda to ideas which ten years ago they would have regarded as simple madness. We may take it as definitely established that no big constructive programme can be carried through in our time in any country without State propaganda. The very smallest reforms take years to become effective without it. The Press, the banking interests, capital and labour, State servants, the general business community, the landowners and the small farmers must all be welded into a harmonious whole if the maximum benefit is to be obtained from the plans promoted by the State in the general interest. Persuasion has to be applied from time to time at different points of the machine to make it work more perfectly. Strikes and lock-outs have to be discouraged, the newspapers have to be induced to give first place to information supplied by the State. Experience will show how the framework within which State propaganda operates is to be gradually strengthened or modified.

Let us examine the methods which are most suited to State propaganda. Our two chief instruments are the Press and the wireless. The former to a large degree is actively making the task of the State more difficult; the latter belongs to the State, and could be used here and now to counteract the bad influence of the Press. The wireless and the Press are the only means, apart from direct speech, through which the State can communicate with the people. These instruments must be adapted to use by the State in the general interest.


Our wireless policy has been, from the beginning, so obscurantist that one wonders why we set up a State Wireless Station at all. Our primary aim in establishing it should have been the education of the people in all those things which make for a better and more prosperous State. But having set up the Station, we proceed to defeat that object by making it impossible for nine-tenths of the population to listen-in at all. We put prohibitive taxes on receivers instead of going almost to the point of subsidizing their purchase by the people, whether made at home or abroad. The supreme object should be to make every man, woman and child a listener. Any given night the Minister concerned with a particular project for the welfare of the State should be able to address almost the totality of our citizens and to explain to them what they as individuals and groups are to do in order to make the project a success. Only in this way can the people as a whole be kept in constant touch with the policy of the Government in the most effective manner - namely, by hearing it explained by the Ministers concerned.

So far we seem to have regarded wireless from the narrow point of view of immediate revenue returns, losing sight of its potentialities for the permanent well-being of the State. Legislation in itself will never recreate a prosperous Ireland. The maximum of individual enthusiasm throughout the country in relation to almost every Act of the Oireachtas can be roused through an effective wireless propaganda. The field of legislation is of necessity somewhat narrow. Outside it lies immense scope for individual enthusiasm. In the matter of tree planting, for example, a sustained wireless campaign by the Minister concerned and his officials would probably get more trees planted in one year than direct State action could plant in twenty. The purchase of Irish goods, the eating of fish to support our fishing industry, the use of Irish materials in building, support for Irish art and Irish materials in the decoration of our churches and homes, the beautifying of our towns and villages, and a thousand other subjects, could be so effectively treated as to transform our people in the course of a few years. Side by side with these subjects, talks on the national and world value of our archeological remains, and the need for preserving them as a sacred inheritance, would help to sweeten the purely utilitarian and to turn the minds of the people away from party squabbles to the deeper and more abiding things in life.

Of course, the general programmes of the Wireless Station must be of a high standard, and we should frankly adopt the policy of not tolerating either artistes or announcers who are not the best available exponents of their jobs. For instance, one cannot imagine anything doing so much harm to the language as the employment of people whose every word is a crime against the fundamental principles of all speech. The essentially beautiful sounds of Irish become hideous when produced - as they are so frequently - by wireless speakers and singers - entirely through the nose. We at once condemn the same defects in English, French or German, but we seem ready to submerge all our standards of beauty in sound where Irish is concerned. If X comes from Aran or Ring he is ipso facto imposed on us as the perfect model though he may be suffering from adenoidal and other defects due to generations of neglected colds. The Wireless Station has been somewhat cruelly and unjustly described as a charitable institution, but we can at least say with perfect truth that the people have received very little benefit from it.


Press propaganda is quite a different problem. What can the head of the Publicity Department do through the Press to keep before the people the particular co-operation required from them at each stage of our national reconstruction? Nothing, unless the Government has secured from all the newspapers guarantees to give equal prominence to the matter supplied or suggested by him. Unless this aim is achieved there will be no effective Press propaganda. The things of most importance to the general interest of the State should be given the principal place in the newspaper, but that will not be done by any paper unless it be accepted as an obligation by all. No matter how desirous of advancing the general interest a particular newspaper may be, it is at the present moment obliged in order to meet the competition of the other papers to star the most trivial nonsense and to put on a back page the essential explanations of a Minister on important State matters.

In both Press and wireless propaganda we should have first of all and all the time in mind the good of our own people. There is no better rule to secure that our Press, and especially our wireless, will be interesting to the outside world.

The time has come for a radical reorganisation of the whole State, and the people must be wholeheartedly one with the Government in all its projects for their betterment. The success of these projects depends on propaganda, which must therefore also be of a radical and all-embracing character. Let us begin by adapting the wireless to our needs. There is no reason in the world why our small State could not achieve the Athenian ideal of arousing in each of its citizens equal enthusiasm for the advancement of all. Our State is a small unit, easy to organize compared with most other States because the individual citizen can be made more accessible to the influence of the rulers of the State.

1 National Industrial Recovery Act (1933). New Deal regulation which aimed to encourage national industrial recovery, foster fair competition and provide for the construction of certain public works. It was declared unconstitutional in 1935 by the United States Supreme Court.

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