A British Legacy?: The Empire Press Union and Freedom of the Press, 1940-1950


  • Denis Cryle Central Queensland University


History, Denis Cryle, HIC, 2004


This paper aims to identify and analyse, in the first instance, those key developments that contributed to a resurgence of international debate over freedom of the press in the aftermath of the Second World War. For this purpose, the focus will be on the Empire/Commonwealth Press Union and its postwar conferences at London (1946) and Ottawa (1950) respectively. The renewed prominence given to issues of press freedom at these gatherings was not only a response to censorship and war-time changes, but reflected the onset of a new world order. The Empire Press Union, established in 1909, had previously held five major imperial conferences during the first half of the century. The Press Union enjoyed ongoing success in lobbying governments and companies to reduce high press cable rates across the Empire. Its conferences, normally convened at five year periods, were established forums for the discussion of ongoing imperial communication issues and were attended by British and Dominion delegations, comprising metropolitan proprietors and editors. Freedom of the press emerged as a conference issue in the wake of censorship by governments during World War One, albeit without the complexity or divisions which characterised the sustained debate of the 1946 and 1950 conferences. This article will argue that, during the latter gatherings, Australian conference delegates, rather than their British counterparts, emerged as the most vocal proponents of freedom of the press, reinforcing in the process a cultural divide between British-speaking empire loyalists like Australia, New Zealand, and Canada on one hand, and those member countries in which nationalist and independence movements were becoming prominent, most notably on the subcontinent.

Author Biography

Denis Cryle, Central Queensland University

Associate Professor Denis Cryle d.cryle@cqu.edu.au lectures in media and communication studies at the Central Queensland University in Australia. He has published extensively on print media, both at regional and national levels, and is compiling a twenty-five year history of Rupert Murdoch's Australian newspaper. His current article forms part of an ongoing international study of the Empire/Commonwealth Press Union (1909-1961) with Dr. Chandrika Kaul of St. Andrews University in Scotland.