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Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 28, No. 1. 1965.

Surveillance The Gospel According To St. Erskine

page 9

Surveillance The Gospel According To St. Erskine

The very name has an aura of mystery—a suggestion of some hidden power suddenly revealed lurking in New Zealands universities.

Mystery it was to the students who found, amidst the time-tables and terms lists of finals, posters for a new newspaper — Surveillance. Unexpected, unheralded. "N.Z.'s only National University Paper" appeared on campus from Auckland to Otago in one great demonstration of inter-university action.

Those who committed their sixpence to the venture found beneath page one's proud green banner the body responsible. No recognisable names these, though to Auckland students the "New Zealand Amalgamated Critics' Society (Inc.)" may have recalled the multi-named body which produces the Auckland paper "Outspoke."

Indeed, when page 2 is investigated, the magic name is there— R. J. Erskine. Now it would be well to take a look at Mr. Erskine, for Auckland's budding Lord Thomson is not well known south of his current habitat. Here is how Craccum introduced him when he fought for Outspoke a year ago:

"We now proceed to the consideration of a student named Robert J. Erskine, at present in his second year of study for an arts degree. Faced, at the end of last year, with the appointment of a Craccum editor who was likely to produce a rather different type of paper from that favoured by himself, Erskine, inspired with a spirit of independence, an extensive megalomania and a particularly durable egotism, set out to edit his own student newspaper."

Although Erskine failed to get official backing, he went on ahead and published Outspoke which ran to 10 issues in 1964. Proudly sub-titled "Varsity's Independent Newspaper," Outspoke succumbed to financial pressure, and by its third issue was being subsidised by Auckland's Students Association to the tune of £15 per issue. In the same issue Erskine relinquished his editorship and by issue five he advertised:

"For political reasons I find myself forced to succumb to Mr. Katavich's dictat; and dis associate myself entirely from Outspoke."

Erskine it was who castigated Victoria when he wrote in Outspoke 8:

"As editor of Tournament Handbook I . . . express my disgust at Victoria for their complete incompetence and lack of ability to furnish even their NZUSA delegates by the final copy closing date."

It was little relief to Victoria students to learn after Tournament that a goodly share of the incompetence could be laid at Erskine's door.

Now Erskine has appeared again, as Managing Editor of Surveillance. In the Editor's chair is none other than Tony Steemson, who edited the first three issues of Outspoke, and later appeared in the columns of Auckland's Sunday News.

What the hell is Surveillance anyway? This question prefixed the first editorial, but was not answered. Having introduced Surveillance's founders, a few background details may be of interest.

A thousand copies of the first issue were printed—giving a maximum possible return of £25. A little advertising will nett a couple of extra pounds. Against this must be balanced a printing bill of £71.

It is immediately apparent that the first issue will lose about £50. This is not the place to go into the vagaries of newspaper economics. Suffice to say the Surveillance plans six issues for 1965 and hopes gradually to recoup its losses from later profits.

If the opening editorial does not say what Surveillance is, it does make some comments of interest. Auckland. Lincoln and Otago. it seems, have all but worn away the "rock of student apathy.' Strange coincidence, it is these universities which seem to support Surveillance most strongly. Canterbury, however, is stated to have "developed (its rock into) a regular reef"—a comment not supported, or likely to be supported, by any facts. By another strange coincidence. Canta complained at the appearance of the first issue of Surveillance.

Then we learn that "the rock of officialdom grows more encrusted and entrenched day by day," an idea so antique it becomes funny when the next line announces that "little cracks are beginning to appear In its side." Somebody has muddled his metaphors.

Winter Tournament and NZUSA also displease the editors. But what really gets them is, it appears, a division in NZSPA between "the 'haves' and the 'have nots'." It would be possible to phase the division another way —between the official newspapers of the various Student Associations and those of Messrs Erskine & Co.

So now the truth is clear. Surveillance is the brain-child of individual students, and its claim to be a university paper rests on the fact that its present producers are university students. It is not connected with any Students' Association, or with NZUSA, nor is it a full member of NZSPA.

What can we expect from Surveillance in 1965? The clue may lie in the performance that Outspoke has offered to date. Once its founders had rid themselves of their Initial inspiration and their censorship-free columns had made their necessary points, Outspoke came to look much like any other university paper. A little worse than some, perhaps, because the editors seemed to have difficulty in distinguishing between popular and good writing. And after devoting column after column to the defects of Craccum, their last issue for 1964 contained an advertisement for Craccum's last issue!

A more disquieting feature was Outspoke's endorsement of particular candidates in student elections. This has been carefully avoided by student editors in the past because it constitutes an abuse of a monopoly position to provide endorsements where no reply is possible by the discarded candidates. It is to be hoped that Surveillance will keep its endorsements of student personalities to itself.

The idea of a "National University Paper" is no new one. It is an open secret that NZSPA itself has considered such a proposal. Such a paper has many distinct values— as a catalyst of student thought, as a comparative study of student life. The disquieting thing about Surveillance is that it fills this place not as the foundation of all students, but as the soap-box of a few. The methods of those who floated the paper are to be deplored, and in the absence of any ethical commitment their motives must be suspect.

The right of anyone to found a student newspaper is not in question. The right of students to independent thought and comment is not in question. What is in question is the right of a small group to claim to speak for and to all students. In the past students who have claimed to speak on behalf of all have at least made a token pretence at enlisting student support. Until the New Zealand Amalgamated Critics Society comes out from behind their paper curtain their claim to our serious atttention must be denied.