Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 28, No. 3. 1965.
Sirs,—Your second leader in the March 1 issue of Salient takes newspapers to tasks for being harsh with their subject. It states that if the presumption were that men were acting sensibly and conscientiously until the evidence proves to the contrary, there would be a great deal less criticism. I assume that the writer did not mean the evidence must be conclusive. For instance, to take an extreme example, that a man must lead his country into economic ruin before he should be criticised. Newspapers would be entitled to criticise the man if they thought he was leading the country into economic ruin.
The criticisms referred to by the writer must, then, take a form something like this: "We have no argument with the policy the Rt. Hon. Minister is pursuing but we do take exception to the fact that he is pursuing it." This would, of course, be couched in the more high-flown language beloved of editors and academics who tear to be too well understood.
I have not seen such criticism in New Zealand newspapers lately. I would be interested to hear if the writer has.
The writer spares the distaste he attributes to Lord Denning for the treatment meted out to Profumo by the British press. I agree that had it not been for certain newspapers the scandal would not have broken, but would this have been desirable? Profumo was the Minister for War with access to State secrets; and because of the nature of his personal life he was open to blackmail. Who could say he would not have yielded. He lied to the House to save his skin.
Was not the nature of his personal life then of extreme importance to the State? Would the relevation of his vulnerability be a "savage personal attack" or a necessary and responsible act to safeguard the security of the State? The Burgess and McLean affair was a case where the newspapers did not act until too late. The editor of the Dally Express knew they were homosexuals; he knew they had access to State secrets; he knew they were open to blackmail; but he did not speak out. and they defected to the Soviet Union.
To take a case nearer home one only has to consider the article on the waterfront in the last issue of Salient. Don Hewitson lays much of the blame for the problems on the wharves on mismanagement. Whose mismanagement? The Harbour Board's? Was the board as a whole responsible or where some members forward-looking but overruled? A newspaper knows the answers to these questions. By publishing them, would it be performing a service to the public to guide them in the forthcoming elections or would it be guilty of "savage personal attacks"?
The writer heads his leader, "Aunt Sally." referring to the men in public life. But he could as well have been referring to newspapers—just as often "Aunt Sallies," and often deservedly so. In this case, however, he could have taken better aim.