Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 28, No. 1. 1965.
Lord Denning, in his Profumo report, mentioned in passing the treatment by the Press of Profumo in particular and men holding public office in general. Denning regretted, obviously very deeply, that the Press should so frequently see fit to pillory men in public office.
He had seen Profumo hung drawn and quartered by the British Press, and he must also have seen many other men taken apart at the seams for the public to examine, and then discard. Denning disliked it, and had he travelled 13,000 miles he would have found the same situation prevalent in New Zealand.
Our weekly newspapers are noted for the savage personal attacks that they can make, usually on politicians. But they are not the only protagonists. The daily newspapers too, are often very harsh on their subject.
Thomas Jefferson once said "When a man assumes a public trust he should consider himself public property." This could well be the theme song of the Press. The idea seems to be that when a man assumes public office his election is not an earnest of the public's faith in his ability, but rather an opportunity to hurl criticism and often abuse at nearly everything he does.
Of course, the newspapers should not be devoid of criticism. A man in a position of public responsibility has obligations to the public, and if he fails to honour these obligations it is right that this should be made known to the public.
If, however, the presumption were that a man is acting sensibly and conscientiously until the evidence proves to the contrary, there would be a great deal less needless criticism than at present, where the presumption is that unless he can prove otherwise, the public official is an idiot, with the public good very far from his mind.—G.E.J.L.