Page:Britain's Deadly Peril.djvu/75

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THE PERIL OF THE CENSORSHIP

What may perhaps be called the classic instance of the perils of premature publication occurred during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–71. In those days there was no censorship, and France, in consequence, received a lesson so terrible that it is never likely to be forgotten. It is more than likely, indeed, that it is directly responsible for the merciless severity of the French censorship to-day.

A French journal published the news that MacMahon had changed the direction in which his army was marching. The news was telegraphed to England and published in the papers here. It at once came to the attention of one of the officials of the German Embassy in London, who, realising its importance, promptly cabled it to Germany. For Moltke the news was simply priceless, and the altered dispositions he promptly made resulted in MacMahon and his entire force capitulating at Metz. Truly a terrible price to pay for the single indiscretion of a French newspaper!

It is not to be denied that to some extent certain of the "smarter" of the British newspapers are responsible for the severity of the censorship in force to-day. In effect, the censorship of news in this country dates from the last war in South Africa. Some of the English journals, in their desire to secure "picture-stories," forgot that the war correspondent has very great responsibilities quite apart from the mere purveying of news.

The result was the birth of a war correspondent of an entirely new type. The older men—the friends of my youth, Forbes, Burleigh, Howard Russell, and the like—had seen and studied war in many phases: they knew war, and distinguished with a sure instinct the news that was permissible as well as interesting, from the news that was interesting but