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Video clip synopsis – John Safran discusses censorship in Australian media.
Year of production - 2005
Duration - 0min 35sec
Tags - Australian History, censorship, democracy, national identity, national interest, newsreels, propaganda, World War 2, see all tags


Censorship in Media

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About the Video Clip


This interview with John Safran was recorded for the website From Wireless to Web, produced in 2005.

John Safran is a Filmmaker and self-proclaimed media hooligan. You can view his full biography at From Wireless to Web

The website is a selective history of broadcast media in Australia. Decade by decade, from radio and newsreels to TV and the internet, this history shows how the Australian broadcast media developed and shaped the way Australians see themselves.

From Wireless to Web is a Film Australia production in association with Roar Film.

Curriculum Focus


Inquiry Questions
What was the impact of the war on the Australian home front?

A student:
5.2 assesses the impact of international events and relationships on Australia’s history
5.3 explains the changing rights and freedoms of Aboriginal peoples and other groups in Australia
5.4 sequences major historical events to show an understanding of continuity, change and causation
5.5 identifies, comprehends and evaluates historical sources
5.7 explains different contexts, perspectives and interpretations of the past.

Students Learn About:

  • wartime government controls, including censorship

Students Learn To:

  • describe the controls on civilian life imposed by the wartime government
  • outline the arguments for and against such controls in wartime.
This material is an extract. Teachers and students should consult the Board of Studies website for more information.

Background Information


At the start of World War II in 1939 Australians rushed to support Britain – the mother country – in her battle with Hitler’s Nazis. Then the Japanese bombed Darwin, killing hundreds, and the nation realised a greater enemy was battering at the door. Help came not from Britain but from a new friend, the United States. The 1940s shifted Australia’s sense of its place in the world.

Control & Censorship
The Government used its influence over radio, newsreel and the print media during World War II (1939-45), in an attempt to control the way in which the war was reported. Information was carefully used by the media as a tool for managing public opinion and boosting morale.

In some instances reports distorted the truth by, for example, minimising the number of casualties or the extent of damage. Sometimes significant current events were not reported at all, such as the death of approximately 243 Australians following the Japanese bombing of Darwin.

Much of the news and commentary was prepared or directly influenced by the Commonwealth Department of Information (DOI). The DOI used what people read in the newspapers, listened to via radio, and watched on newsreels at the cinema to ‘heighten the war effort’. (Inglis 79)

Sir Keith Murdoch, the Managing Director of the Herald and Weekly Times Ltd. (and father of Rupert Murdoch), was made Director-General of Information, with the power to control 'every avenue of publicity’.

Other official bodies who influenced what would be broadcast included the Army, the Navy and
the United States’ General Headquarters in Melbourne.

In addition, the Government keenly scrutinised the nation’s media proprietors, particularly those thought to be a threat to national security. In January 1941, “the Jehovah’s Witnesses Church was declared illegal because of its anti-war views”. (Darlington 362) Subsequently, the broadcast licences of four radio stations owned by the Jehovah’s Witnesses were revoked by the Postmaster-General’s Department for fear they would obstruct the war effort. The stations were 2HD Newcastle, 5KA Adelaide, 5AU Port Augusta and 4AT Atherton. (NFSA)

Mentions of media censorship were suppressed, and the Government threatened penalties for breaches of censorship. Despite people’s recognition of the role of censorship during a time of national emergency, many, including those involved in producing broadcasts, criticised the Government’s censorship of the media as too extreme, and some even compared the suppression and interference to Dr Goebbels’ Department of Propaganda and Enlightenment in Nazi Germany.

Classroom Activities

  1. Explain the purpose of World War 2 newsreels on the Australian home front. How did the government control the information shown in newsreels?
    1. What was the purpose of newsreels sent to Australian soldiers?
  2. “The government has the right to make any laws necessary to protect us in times of emergency.” Do you agree with this statement? Write an exposition (or single-sided argument) that supports your opinion OR hold a class debate on this topic.
  3. World War 2 had a much greater impact on the lives of Australians than any other war in our history. Find out more about wartime controls by following the links below as well as your own research. Use this information to write a script or create a storyboard for a short documentary on the impact of World War 2 on the Australian home front.

Further Resources


Go to From Wireless to Web for more about the history of broadcast media in Australia.

Go to The Australian Home Front during World War 2