When BBC’s German language service began in 1938, the policy that seemed to hold the most promise was to tell the unvarnished truth, according to research reported in the Guardian recently.
In practice, telling the truth would mean that British defeats in battle would be reported accurately throughout the war, without exaggeration, says Dr Vike Martina Plock of the department of English at Exeter University.
Plock discovered BBC memos at the archive center in Caversham Park, Reading. “It is fascinating to see how the BBC provided the German public with accurate information during the war and thereby began to re-educate individuals who had been living, willingly or unwillingly, with 12 years of Nazi propaganda,” she told the Guardian.“To be effective in exposing Nazi propaganda as lies and teach German listeners to become responsible citizens of a peaceful, unified Europe, the BBC German Service had to first gain their trust. Offering impartial news was therefore very important, even if it meant broadcasting information about Britain’s military setbacks. Listeners who heard these news bulletins were inclined to believe in Britain’s superior military strength. If the Allies could openly admit defeats, it was believed, they must be extremely confident, convinced of their eventual victory over Nazi Germany.”
The idea that truth wins in the marketplace of ideas is the basis of modern communication law, and can be traced back to John Milton’s Areopagitica.