Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 28, No. 3. 1965.
Sirs,—The student Press should be ahead, not behind, the dallies in its opinions.
It is hardly appropriate for writers such as G.E.J.L. to take a stand in Salient 2 berating the daily Press for one of the most searching series of news stories and commentaries, namely that on the recent Sutch Affair.
Not only did the Press inform the public of the circumstances surrounding the retirement of a man well known in the community, but it illustrated important principles governing the relationship of the politician to the public servant, among other things.
The Press did not give a "disgusting exhibition" as G.E.J.L. so blithly suggests, nor did they present "no facts" as he notes. A retirement is a "fact," the reasons for it must be speculation. A quote from a letter saying that Dr. Sutch "did not enjoy the confidence of the business community or the Government to the measure desired" is a fact. The report of the PSA's stand was a factual report, and to a political commentator the silence of Dr. Sutch. of the Labour Party, the phrasing of the Prime Minister's statement and many other phases in the affair were "Facts."
If the public affairs of public men are to be the concern of the public, then G.E.J. L.'s comment "if there is a story to be told, then it surely is Dr. Sutch's prerogative to tell it when he chooses," is a plain contradiction of this principle.
Dr. sutch's public affairs, and the matters of public concern surrounding them are our concern, and Dr. Sutch's view is only one aspect of the issue. He may have very sound political reasons for "lying low"; it is just that our interests lie in having the issue fully presented.
G.E.J.L.'s comments about journalistic distortion have validity, but they could have not been affixed to any other current issue more inappropriately.
If he, or any other student, is further interested in studying the case, I recommended that they read H. W. Orsman's article in the last issue of "Comment" on the affair.
In a scholarly manner, the brings together most of the available facts connected by generally astute comment. Of the comments I have read and heard on the affair, it is by far the most comprehensive.
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.