During the First World War news, censorship, and propaganda work was carried out by a large number of government departments and agencies, frequently with overlapping activities. Press censorship was dealt with by the Official Press Bureau, postal and telegraph censorship under the direction of the War Office, and film censorship by the British Board of Film Censors on behalf of the Official Press Bureau for home films and of the War Office for films intended for export. Home publicity beyond departmental responsibilities was the concern of the National War Aims Committee.
Overseas publicity was carried out by a number of departments, including the Directorate of Military Operations and Intelligence at the War Office; those principally concerned in the early years of the war were the News Department of the Foreign Office, the War Propaganda Bureau and the Neutral Press Committee. The bureau was generally known as Wellington House, from the location of the office of its political head, CFG Masterman. Its functions related largely to the production and distribution of books, pamphlets, maps, photographs, films and articles for use in allied and neutral countries.
The Neutral Press Committee was set up in September 1914 under the Home Office to counteract German propaganda, and consisted of the Home Secretary, Masterman, the press censor, and a number of newspaper proprietors and journalists. Later, as a small committee of officials, it gave regular advice and support to the executive unit under I Mair. Subsequently the committee ceased to meet and Mair reported directly to the Home Secretary until the spring of 1916 when his unit was attached to the News Department.
The Neutral Press Committee, as the unit continued to be termed, provided information services to the neutral press to counteract enemy propaganda. It set up propaganda agencies in Sweden and Greece.
In February 1917 the News Department (in respect of its propaganda activities), War Propaganda Bureau and Neutral Press Committee were merged to form a Department of Information, to take over foreign propaganda activities and to act as a general publicity bureau.
At first it was under the control of a director, John Buchan, responsible to the Prime Minister and the War Cabinet but in August 1917 Sir Edward Carson, a member of the War Cabinet, who was already responsible for the home publicity work of the National War Aims Committee, was made responsible for the department also. The four main sections of the department were housed in separate buildings and the earlier distribution of work remained substantially unaltered. The Administrative Section (virtually the old News Department) was housed at the Foreign Office and dealt with the direction of propaganda though a number of geographical branches.
The Literature and Art Section continued to operate from Wellington House, while a Technical Section was situated in the Lord Chancellor's Court at the House of Lords. The fourth section was the Political Intelligence Bureau, which collected information and prepared weekly reports on political civil affairs in major foreign countries. The department also carried out for the War Office military intelligence departments the distribution of military news to non-military and non-dominion authorities.
In March 1918 the Department of Information was absorbed into a new Ministry of Information, with the exception of the Political Intelligence Bureau, which had already been transferred to the Foreign Office, and the Enemy Propaganda Branch, which was transferred to Lord Northcliffe's Crewe House Committee. The latter was reconstituted in February 1918 as the Department of Propaganda in Enemy Countries and, though theoretically part of the Ministry of Information, reported direct to the War Cabinet.
However, propaganda in Turkey and the Near and Middle East remained with the Ministry, while that in Italy was handled by Crewe House. The new ministry also took over full responsibility for the production as well as the distribution of official photographs and films, formerly carried out by two War Office committees. It also undertook the distribution of propagandist films in Britain for the National War Aims Committee.
The ministry had a central secretariat; an Intelligence Department, including Wireless and Cables Branches; a Propaganda Department, organised in geographical administrative branches, and executive branches responsible for various propaganda media; a Personal Propaganda Department, responsible for public relations, with Facilities and American Liaison Branches; and a Finance Department.
Both the Department and the Ministry of Information maintained missions in a number of countries, notably the New York Bureau with branches at Chicago and San Francisco, the Spanish Bureau, which dealt with Catholic propaganda, and an Anglo-Russian Commission at Petrograd prior to the October Revolution.
When Lord Beaverbrook resigned as Minister of Information in October 1918 no successor was appointed, and in November it was decided to dissolve the ministry. Some of its staff and overseas missions were transferred to the Foreign Office, but its functions virtually ceased.