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Typo: A Monthly Newspaper and Literary Review, Volume 6

Quid pro Quo

page 49

Quid pro Quo

More than a passing notice is due to a discussion in the House of Representatives on the 19th inst., as reported in the authorized record. The report, which is headed « Government Advertising, » occupies sixteen pages, or about eight of Typo, and probably no debate on so simple a theme ever straggled over a wider range of subjects. Abuse of official patronage and waste of public funds; transactions in land scrip; refusal of ministers to produce public correspondence; the respective responsibilities of the Executive and the Audit Office; the comparative circulation and influence of a leading New Zealand newspaper and one of the most insignificant productions of the colonial press—such were the subjects wrangled over, to the great obscuration of the real point at issue. The question was raised by the redoubtable Mr Fish, who asked the Minister of Lands why certain laud sale advertisements had been refused to the Dunedin Star. The Minister gave an evasive reply—it was impossible for the department to advertise in all the New Zealand papers, and it had used its discretion, choosing those which would give the greatest publicity and most information to the public. As this was precisely what the department had not done in the present case, the explanation was far from satisfactory, and Mr Fish, by moving the adjournment of the House, managed to open the whole subject. He explained that he was no friend to the Star; but it was a widely-circulated and influential paper, whereas the one to which the advertisements had been transferred « had no circulation whatever, and as far as giving publicity to any information on the matter of land sales was concerned, an advertisement in the Globe was not worth twopence an insertion. » In April the land sales notices were withdrawn from the Star, the local commissioner explaining that he no longer had authority to insert them. At the same time they made their first appearance in the Globe. On the visit of the Minister of Lands to Dunedin, he was waited upon by the manager of the Star, when he assured the newspaper man that the disposal of the advertising was absolutely at the discretion of the commissioner. Correspondence followed, the commissioner informing the paper in writing that his authority to advertise had been withheld by the authorities in Wellington; and the survey department in its turn wrote that the matter was entirely in the hands of the commissioner—which that gentleman again emphatically denied. To settle the question, the Star manager attended at the land office, tendered the prescribed fee, and asked to see the official instructions—one of those documents which, according to § 43 of the Land Act, are open to public inspection at all reasonable hours; but access to the paper was refused. We need not quote the comments of Mr Fish, nor the equally warm remarks of Mr Valentine, later on in the debate. The Minister, Mr J. M'Kenzie, when in turn he spoke again, took quite a different line from his first evasive reply. « ؟Why should the Globe be cut out, and the advertisements be given to the Star? They were published in the morning paper, which was directly opposed to the Government, and in the weekly paper, which was also directly opposed to the Government. He might mention that the Globe had a very large circulation in the country districts. » This statement was received with derision by the Otago members, one of whom interjected « It is not true »; but had to withdraw the words, substituting the more Parliamentary phrase, « The statement is incorrect. » Here the discussion went off at a tangent for about an hour on the subject of land scrip, when Sir J. Hall reverted to the advertising question, charging the Government with political bribery. Another long digression, and Mr Allen returned to the charge, narrating how the Premier had in a certain ease interfered in favor of a Government organ and ordered an advertisement which the Registrar of Electors—the proper officer appointed by law—had refused. Then Mr Eees, with commendable candor and considerable « nerve, » defended the whole business. « He only hoped, with regard to this so-called favoritism in advertising, that the Government would extend it. They had not only to cope with the opposition of all the various associations which represented power, wealth, and influence throughout the country, but they had also the press of the country to fight against. » The code of ethics which approves of the boycot as a means of « fighting » the independent press is peculiar, but is quite in accord with public utterances of Ministers. The Premier has made no secret of his intention to direct public expenditure as far as possible into the pockets of people of « the right color, » and a chameleonlike change of hue in the case of a good many persons has been the consequence. Those who, like the Star, decline to strike their colors, must be prepared to pay the penalty of their contumacy. As Sir J. Hall reminded the House, a former ministry, of which the present Premier was a member, had been exposed in similar practices. « The whole matter was threshed out in the House, and the House had put its foot down on these proceedings, and he thought there had been an end of them. » What was done years ago shamefastly and in secret, is now openly practised and unblushingly defended; and the House as at present constituted shows no disposition to « put its foot down » on any political corruption, no matter how gross. But the taxpayers will scarcely approve of the famished pariahs of the press—despised and discredited by the public—being maintained from the public funds in return for the « support » they afford.