Paris Peace Conf. 180.03101/62
Minutes of a Conversation Held at the Quai d’Orsay, Paris, Friday, March 21st, 1919, at 6 p.m.
|America, United States of||America, United States of|
|President Wilson||Mr. Russell Dolbeare|
|Hon. R. Lansing||British Empire|
|Secretary||Sir Eyre Crowe, K. C. B., K. C. M. G.|
|Mr. A. H. Frazier|
|The Rt. Hon. D. Lloyd George, M. P.|
|The Rt. Hon. A. J. Balfour, O. M., M. P.|
|Lt. Col. Sir M. P. A. Hankey, K. C. B.|
|The Hon. T. A. Spring-Rice|
|M. de Bearn|
|H. E. M. Orlando|
|H. E. Baron Sonnino|
|America, United States of||Colonel U. S. Grant|
|British Empire||Major A. M. Caccia, M. V. O.|
|France||Captain A. Portier|
Publication in Press of Matters Discussed at the Conference Mr. Lloyd George said that he raised the following question with considerable disinclination. It would be in the recollection of the Conference that on Tuesday last a discussion took place on the subject of Poland. It was necessary that at these meetings the members should express themselves quite freely and quite clearly. He was therefore surprised on the following morning to find in the French papers not only a full report of the Committee’s finding illustrated by secret maps; but, in addition, a garbled account of what he himself had said in the Council. The account contained actual quotations of the words used by him between quotation marks. Had a verbatim report been given, he would not have objected so strongly. But the report gave a very wrong impression of what he had said, and the distortion permitted an opportunity for violent attacks against him. He did not mind the personal attacks, except in so far as they did undoubtedly tend to create ill-feeling, more especially as England itself was abused for its action in Syria.
The Conference would recollect that President Wilson had on a previous occasion drawn the attention of the Council to a similar occurrence. The report then complained of had also been a very garbled version of what had actually taken place at the meeting. There had been sufficient evidence to justify the conclusion that the information must have come from British sources and had probably been supplied by someone who had been present at the meeting. Feeling that the honour of the British Delegation was thereby involved, he had directed that measures be taken in order to discover the offender. The case was tracked down, with the result that not only was the person concerned dealt with as far as possible, but also the newspaper correspondent responsible was sent away from Paris. He was afraid from internal evidence that the incident now complained of had come from French sources, for reasons which he could give. It was most unfortunate that such disclosures shoud be made, and he felt sure that the French delegates would not resent his taking notice of the matter. That very afternoon General Bliss had told him that an American gentleman just returned from Berlin stated that the disclosures which were daily appearing in the papers in connection with the peace negotiations were causing the greatest harm in Germany. From what this witness had seen and heard in Germany, he felt convinced that if the whole peace terms, however stiff, were at once presented, they would be accepted. But the disclosure of one condition at a time had the effect of driving the Germans to desperation, especially as each new thing was published to the world with the suggestion that the Allies were not agreed among themselves. He wished to speak quite plainly, and to say that if [Page 445] similar disclosures were to be repeated, he would much prefer not to take any further part in the discussions, and to put off expressing his views until the final Conference took place. A perusal of the articles complained of would make it clear that someone who had been present in the room was responsible for the disclosure, and his colleagues would agree that it would be impossible to continue these discussions if such incidents were likely to recur.
It would be in the recollection of some of his colleagues that he had hesitated to agree to the Peace Conference meeting in a capital, because he was afraid that the local press would take an undue part in the proceedings, and attempt to influence decisions by an injudicious criticism of the delegates of other countries. The mere fact that the Peace Conference was meeting in Paris should transform the city for the moment from a French into an international capital.
It would be unnecessary for him to lay stress on the fact that the occurrence of such incidents only tended to encourage the Germans to give the public the wrong impression that the Allies were only fighting each other for individual advantages. Consequently, such incidents must be put a stop to; strong action must be taken to prevent the possibility of their recurrence; otherwise, that Conference would become absolutely futile.
M. Clemenceau said that he could only thank Mr. Lloyd George for his statement, which he accepted in the spirit in which it was made. Mr. Lloyd George would recognise how difficult it was to supervise the press. The pressmen had entry into all Government offices, and it was impossible to prevent leakage occurring. He could only express his deep regret that the articles referred to had found their way in the press, and he promised to take every possible measure to prevent a recurrence of the incidents complained of. Here, in France, the press censorship still functioned; but the Government did not dare to enforce it too rigorously. Nevertheless, he would do his best to stop the publication of such harmful articles. He agreed word for word with everything that Mr. Lloyd George had said. Nothing had done more to put the Allies in the wrong light with the Germans than the indiscretions of the press. He promised to do his best to prevent a repetition of such indiscretions. But he could hardly guarantee that nothing of the kind would ever occur again.
Mr. Lloyd George drew attention to the fact that the articles complained of had been published in the “Temps”, the “Journal”, and the “Echo de Paris”. As was well known, the “Temps”, was, at any rate, supposed to be in close touch with the Government, so that the article in question became doubly mischievous. His complaint, however, was not directed against the press. His chief [Page 446] point was that someone sitting in that room had deliberately given the information complained of to the press with a definite purpose. He fully agreed with M. Clemenceau that it was impossible to control the press, but it should be possible to prevent responsible officials from giving away such information, especially when the information so given was deliberately altered in order to make it the ground for a violent attack on one of the Allied countries.
M. Clemenceau said he would make very serious protests to the directors of the “Temps”. At the same time he would point out that in France a press censorship still existed which did not exist in Great Britain and America, consequently measures could be taken for its proper application.
President Wilson enquired whether in M. Clemenceau’s opinion a severe enquiry could not be instituted to discover who had given out the information about Poland.
Mr. Lloyd George explained that the British authorities had in the previous case instituted a stern inquiry, with the result that the offender had been discovered. He thought that if the French Government were to make a stern and persistent enquiry, the culprit in this case would also be found. In his opinion, the culprit ought to be tracked down, otherwise discussion here would become impossible.
M. Clemenceau agreed.
Mr. Balfour invited attention to another aspect of the same case. The same leakage was taking place in regard to Commissions and Committees, with the result that the members who had expressed an opinion on any question were subsequently lectured by outside parties. For instance, he himself had mentioned at one of the meetings that the port of Dantzig constituted a difficult problem. In consequence, M. Dmowski had called on him and talked to him for a considerable time on his supposed anti-Polish feelings; though, as a matter of fact, he was a great supporter of the Poles. The point, however, was this, namely, that as a result of his having made a remark at a secret meeting, an outside diplomat had forthwith been sent to him to discuss the whole question.
President Wilson said he could confirm Mr. Balfour’s statement, because he himself had first learnt of the decisions about to be reached by Commissions from outside parties against whom the decision was going to be given. In his opinion, every member of the Delegation should take steps to ensure that no one connected with his Delegation was to blame.
M. Clemenceau enquired whether, to begin with a notice should not be circulated to all members of the Peace Conference, enjoining strict secrecy.[Page 447]
Mr. Lansing pointed out that the whole of the military and naval terms had been published in the press.
M. Sonnino said that whilst all were agreed in regard to the question of the Press, the proceedings of Committees and Commissions presented a greater difficulty. In his opinion, a circular should be issued to all members of the Commissions impressing on them the necessity for reticence. He thought a great many people talked almost unconsciously; therefore, a circular might be useful.
Mr. Lloyd George expressed the view that whoever was responsible for giving the information should not be allowed in the Council Chamber. The incident to which he had called attention presented the same characteristics as the previous case, that is, it contained a communication in inverted commas, which could only have been given by someone who had been present in the room.
M. Pichon said that he agreed with all that had been said by M. Clemenceau. He merely wished to add that severe instructions had been given to the Press, and daily a great number of articles and paragraphs were suppressed by the press censor. An enquiry would, however, be carried out as suggested by Mr. Lloyd George.
(It was agreed:—
- That a strict and severe enquiry should be instituted by the French Authorities in order to discover, if possible, the name of the person who had given information to the Press in regard to the Conversation held at the Quai d’Orsay about Poland.
- That a circular should be issued by the Secretariat General to members of the Peace Conference impressing on them the necessity for strict reticence in regard to the proceedings of the Conference.)
(The Meeting then adjourned.)
Paris, 22nd March, 1919.