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Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 28, No. 2. 1965.

Forum — Beating It Up

page 6


Beating It Up

man addressing crowd

One of the most disgusting exhibitions in recent times has been the treatment by the newspapers of the retirement of Dr. Sutch. It is a testimony to the power and influence of the Press that, to most householders throughout this little twin-island community, the words "The Sutch Affair" have a familiar ring.

And it is also a testimony to this country's Press that virtually no facts have ever been seen in print. The whole business has been whipped along by the papers; people unconnected with the matter have spoken and written at great length and with little knowledge, but the men most directly concerned with the fracas, namely Dr. Sutch and the Prime Minister, have had conspicuously little to say.

This some people regard as suspicious. But it would behove each and every person to think more deeply on situations of this kind. As soon as a story is in the wind the newspapers get on to it. They view its sensation potential, and the higher the potential, the harder they strive to get comment on it.

They telephone their subjects at work. They telephone them at home. They press them to make comments on the spur of the moment which will later be put on Press Association and reprinted throughout the country.

Not surprisingly, therefore, the questioned man has 'no comment.' But this fact too is printed and even this is made to look like an admission of guilt.

The suspect is caught; if he comes out with a defence this is proof positive that there is an issue. If he denies that there is an issue, this denial, given the necessary headlines, loses its meaning and becomes the issue. And if he has 'no comment' then he looks guilty.

So here was the position faced by Dr. Sutch. Told by the newspapers that he was the centre of a story, he had to decide what to do. He chose. He said absolutely nothing. He added no fuel to this fire which he did not start and which he could not hope to put out. And yet for weeks he was liable to wake up in the morning and find himself news again, or go home from work and find his name on the billboards.

From all this controversy what emerges? Speculation, opinion, kite-flying, vituperation, idiocy, and poor taste were ever-present, but the facts are few. Dr. Sutch is retiring, and he has no comment to make on it. This is all we know.

The newspapers strove mightily for a story and they never found it. They sought facts, but they contented themselves with printing opinions.

If there is a story to be told, then it surely is Dr. Sutch's prerogative to tell it when and where he chooses. And this is not the time, we know, and the place is not the newspapers. Much more likely, however, is that there is little or no story at all. But there are very few people in New Zealand who will buy that one. They have had months of conditioning to the contrary.

If there is any comfort for Dr. Sutch, it must lie in the fact that, like the many other men before him who found themselves news, there will be others after him, who will also get the treatment reserved for men of high office who have not sought notoriety, but are obliged to receive it.

If New Zealand has no news of Its own, this is no problem. It manufactures it.