In 1916, an early 20th century Bahamas could not have imagined how it would grow and change and evolve, into a newer version of itself, just one hundred years later. In the modern age of the internet, and with the ability of just about anyone to cut and paste pictures to create entertaining memes and yes, even fake news, many don’t know that there was a time, in Bahamian history, when such would have been deemed almost an act of treason against, King, country and economy.
1916 was a significant period in world history due largely in part to World War 1. The Bahamas, a then colony of England, was right in the thick of it, like everyone else. England needed soldiers, money and support from its colonies, and the Bahamas, did not shirk its responsibilities to the Mother Country. The country had another important responsibility as well, the solemn duty, not to propagate or allow the transmission of fake news.
Words held incredible value back then, considering that it often took days, weeks, and even months or longer, to verify information. The Bahamas was heavily dependent on news and intelligence, being real, and not embellished reports. Words were the store of knowledge. They were the repositories of meaning, virtue and hope to our small colony. Information was like gold and we depended upon it to keep our fledging winter tourist season afloat, our economy intact and our people safe. Even though we had the telegraph and the telegram and a most archaic version of a speaking device that allowed us to communicate across long distances, the Bahamas relied heavily on the validity of the spoken and written word from those within and those coming in. Once something was said or written, corroboration if necessary, would take a very long time.
So it should come as no surprise that strong laws were created to protect the integrity of even a single word, be it written or spoken, anywhere in the Bahamas. A single word could destroy our faith and loyalty to the King of England. A single word could damage our economy or cause despair or spread panic during the bleak time of world war. A single word could cause our currency to falter or our men and women to lose heart and courage.
And so Governor, Sir William Allardyce, enacted the following:
THE PROCLAMATION ACT 1914
1. No person shall by word of mouth, or in writing, or in any newspaper, periodical, book, circular, or other printed publication
(a) spread false reports or make false statements; or
(b) spread reports or make statements intended or likely to cause disaffection to His Majesty or to interfere with the success of His Majesty’s Allies by land or sea or to prejudice His Majesty’s relations with foreign powers; or
(c) spread reports or make statements intended or like to prejudice the recruiting, training, discipline or administration of any of his Majesty’s Forces or the discipline of the Police Force or Volunteer Force; or
(d) spread reports or to make statements intended or likely to undermine public confidence in any bank or currency notes which are legal tender in the Colony or any part thereof.
And no person shall produce any performance on stage or exhibit an y picture or cinematograph film or commit any act which is intended or likely to cause any disaffection, interference or prejudice as aforesaid, and if any person contravenes any of the above provisions he shall be guilty of an offence against this Proclamation
2. If any person without lawful authority or excuse has in his possession or on premises in his occupation or under his control any document containing a report which would be a contravention of the foregoing provisions of this section, he shall be guilty of an offence against this Proclamation, unless he proves that he did not know and had no reason to suspect that the document contained any such report or statement, or that he had no intention of transmitting or circulating the document or distributing copies thereof to or amongst other persons.
3. No prosecution for an offence against this secant shall be commenced without the consent of the Attorney General.
This Proclamation shall be read and construed as one with the Proclamation made and issued on the 16th day of December, A.D., 1916.
Given under my Hand and the Great Seal of the said Islands at the Government House in the City of Nassau, in the island of New Providence this ninth day of August, A.D., 1917, and in the Eighth year of His Majesty’s Reign.
By His Excellency’s Command
W. HART BENNETT,
GOD SAVE THE KING