HC Deb 29 November 1926 vol 200 cc843-4W
Captain BENN

asked the Secretary of State for Air whether he is aware that a report of a recent flying accident appeared in the Press, stating, without mentioning names, that two persons had been killed; and whether, in view of the unnecessary anxiety thus caused to the relatives and friends of many flying officers, he can take steps to ensure that a prompt official account of such accidents shall be published, stating the names of the casualties?


The answer to the first part of the question is in the affirmative, and I appreciate most fully the grave undesirability of the publication of the news of fatalities of this kind before the names can be stated. It should not, however, be forgotten that there are two obligations of humanity in this matter. One is, certainly, to avoid the painful anxiety which may be caused to a wide circle of relatives of many officers and men; but there is also that of sparing the feelings of the bereaved family. It is with the latter obligation in view that the Air Ministry have arranged not to issue a communique for 24 hours, in order to render it reasonably certain that the relatives will first have received the telegram notifying the casualty, even if they are away from home at the time.

Of these two objects, the first is defeated if the news is published in the Press without names, and the second if it is published too rapidly with the names. News in one form or the other is, however, likely to reach the Press in less than 24 hours, at any rate, in the case of -home accidents.

It is obvious that there is here a certain conflict between the claims of humanity and of journalistic enterprise, and I do not claim to pronounce dogmatically how it ought to be Resolved. But I may point out that the object which my Department has, and ought to have, in view can only be fully achieved by the newspapers themselves withholding publication until the official communique is received. I do not know whether, in this quite limited sphere, the Press could agree to a self-denying ordinance. If it were possible, the officers and men of the Air Force and their relatives would, I am sure, he very grateful, and the general public would, I think, be content to wait a few hours for the news.