Salient: Victoria University of Wellington Students' Newspaper. Vol. 32, No. 8. 1969.
Opinions expressed in Salient are not necessarily Those of VUWSA.
April 30, 1969
The leader writer at the Dominion who wrote an editorial last Wednesday criticising the handling of the Security incident at Victoria was probably desirous of achieving more than simply writing the longest sentence in the newspaper.
He was successful at the latter objective, but appears vulnerable on the first.
The editorial levelled allegations of senationalism against "a Wellington student newspaper" (Salient?) and began:
University students, who are quick to sec sensationalism in Press reporting of some of their more controversial activities, such as a demonstration in Parliament Grounds last year, and in the annual literary and physical horseplay connected with capping, saw some Press sensationalism of their own last week …
It goes on …
The exchange on this occasion indicate that the students own association, through its president, was soberly discussing with the Security Service the relationship of the service to students when everything suddenly burst into print.
The latter point is quite unjustified of course. When Salient first became aware of an attempt by Executive members to contact Security, it was by Mr. Peter Cullen, the National Affairs Officer. This was one of Mr. Cullen's more realistic ideas.
However Salient prevailed upon Mr. Cullen to take his case to Executive which he did, and Mr. Curry was left to go it alone.
To be quite frank, the whole idea of Brigadier Gilbert being presented with a piece of paper by an earnest President requesting the removal of any agents from the campus with the alternative being exposure in the columns of Salient, provided a welcome relief for those engaged in researching the story.
But apart from the possibility of feathering Mr. Curry's nest, we were Lead to believe that Security would clam up once they realised publication was imminent. The Auckland Herald, being the least wary of the media interested, printed a "rumour" story, and the fat was in the fire. Seventeen hours later, Salient "burst into print", and another seven hours later, the Dominion printed our story. That is to say, they almost ran our story.
The first sentence read:
"Claims that a security officer tried to recruit university students to spy on 'communist front" groups were made in a special issue of a Wellington student newspaper."
This of course is an outright lie. Salient did not claim "communist front" groups were involved. For the Dominion to state, not suggest, but explicitly state that we did is misrepresentation and a gross negation of journalistic ethics.
We have no objection to the news editor or the editor, or whoever was responsible at the Dominion labouring under the impression that the committee on Vietnam is a "communist front" organisation. But we have every objection when they attempt to implicate us in their smear tactics.
Their irresponsible attitude hardly inspires any confidence in their editorial opinions, which is the reason why we find it difficult to place much importance on their editorial.
A further point is that the Dominion apparently applies their own criteria in news presentation to Salient. We are not a daily paper. We are not serving a community very similar to the society the Dominion serves. We are not even recognised as a newspaper in some circles. Witness Brigadier Gilbert refusing to make a statement, or even speak to Salient, because it would "credit the editor and its staff with more respect than they deserve". Which is rather the problem of youth in general.
A further sequel came in an NZSPA release. Tucked away at the bottom of a story by Anthony Jaques is the report of a statement by the National Affairs Office. Mr. Peter Cullen, to the effect that there was a strong possibility that the editor would be made to pay for the special edition himself. It is amazing that a statement by someone who has absolutely nothing to do with Publications Board, who is totally wrong in suggesting it is outside the terms of the contract, could interfere in something which is none of Executive business anyway.
Where was the Publications Officer while this story was being written? And who wrote that paragraph? Mr. Jaques claims he didn't. Whoever it was would have ascertained the absolutely false and ludicrous nature of the statement had he contacted anyone at all with anything to do with the story. It reduced the Press release to a Dominion—quality rave.
As for Mr. Cullen, When we wearily totted up the 37th person Mr. Cullen had told, individually and in confidence of the security incident, before it appeared in Salient, we considered presenting some form of award to them. But Cardinal McKeefry was out of town.