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BRITISH NEWSREELS AND THE SPANISH CIVIL WAR by Anthony Aldgate The newsreel coverage of the Spanish Civil War has to be seen in the light of certain events that affected the newsreel companies prior to the commencement of the actual war. The newsreels were not officially subject to censorship. They had not come under the aegis of the British Board of Film Censors, set up in 1912, for numerous reasons — the emphasis on fiction films when the censorship question was originally being discussed, the tradition of a free press, most of all the necessarily speedy time factor involved in their printing and distribution to the news theatres and other cinemas showing them up and down the country and equally as important, the inclusion by the London County Council in its licensing regulation of 1921 of the exception "other than photographs of current events." This exemption had apparently been included in the licensing conditions imposed by other councils in the previous decade and was soon to be incorporated in the successive drafts of the Home Office model conditions and finally absorbed by the more than 200 licensing authorities. -*This did not of course mean that the newsreel companies were exempt from pressures of the public or governmental varieties. Prior to 1935 the public criticism of newsreels was concerned for the most part with The depiction of violence. One good example turns up in the columns of the Times for Friday, December 1, 1933, in a piece entitled, "Horror in News Films" and reads, "There is now being shown in this country an American newsreel which ends with a shot of one of the lynched kidnappers of a certain Mr. Hart hanging from a tree surrounded by a howling mob." The Times columnist was undoubtedly worried about the effects of this story upon the vast cinemagoing audience of the time and goes on "this is the latest and most horrifying manifestation of a growing tendency to sacrifice all decency to sensationalism in the presentation of news on the screen." He concludes "it is greatly to be hoped that before long, steps will be taken to safeguard the public from the exhibition of such scenes." Anthony Aldgate. teaches histo.iy at the. University o{¡ Edinburgh, Scotland. His new {¡iim on The. Spanish Civil Wat, ptioduczd by the. F>nitli>h HIotobiano VtGn Con&ofitiim, is ava-ilable {¡on. bale, in America thnougli lilsh University Vies s in Weit' ?????. In early 1934 Warwickshire County Council actually went so far as to write to the Film Censorship Consultative Committee and advocated a censorship of newsreels2 and in late 1934 followed this up with a resolution: "That this council views with concern the offence to public feeling and the harmful effect upon children likely to be caused by the exhibition in newsfilms of incidents of harrowing scenes of loss of life and suffering, such as have lately been shown in connection with a fatal aeroplane accident, a liner disaster, and more recently, an assassination, and urges the Secretary of State to take such action or to bring pressure to bear, as will prevent in the future the introduction into news, films of such incidents. "3 The reaction from the newsreel companies was immediate. In the case of the lynching newsreel, the whole newsreel was withdrawn for excision purposes and in a statement circulated to all the press, an official of British Paramount News said, "In view of the public resentment at the showing of this newsreel, we have decided to withdraw the whole shot. I would make it clear that there has been no question of representation from officia] sources nor at the time it was withdrawn did we know that it was intended to ask a question about it in the House of Commons. .. .We are servants of the public and we withdraw it as a gesture to their opinion. "4 But such statements were simply not enough to stem the tide of dissatisfaction. Birmingham County Council determined that it would include newsreels in its news; the Film Censorship Consultative Committee was ruminating over the problem in August 1934 and the British Board of Film Censors in its annual report maintained that it was looking into...


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