Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 28, No. 8. 1965.
Forum—the most successful student institution of the year—has ascended to its greatest heights in recent weeks. But the highest peaks have the reputation of being the most precarious.
Free thought and speech are prominent features of university life and Forum has become their mouthpiece. Free speech, however, must be accompanied by responsibility and there must be some means of ensuring responsibility if this privilege is not to deteriorate into licence.
Unfortunately there have been signs of deterioration already.
The discerning observer could have anticipated this for some of the most important safeguards against licence have been coldly and deliberately sawn out from under the Forum superstructure These safeguards include the likelihood of Forum statements being presented before a much wider audience and put up for searching examination of fact and logic
The convener, Tony Ashenden, who has shown admirable enterprise and vision in Forum's establishment, has consistently refused to allow meetings to be reported by the dally press.
He has had two reasons for doing this. First, he has declared his complete lack of confidence in the press to report accurately or to interpret at all; and, secondly, he has pointed out that speakers may have some worthwhile arguments which they would not present if they felt their statements might go further afield.
On the first count, it is perhaps best to look to overseas commentators for comment on the comparative competency of the New Zealand press. Dean Barrett of the Columbia University's school of Journalism has described it as being neither particularly brilliant nor particularly bad. Generally he felt it to be reliable and responsible.
Mr. Ashenden has documented his opinion with clippings of misreportings
These mistakes will occur from time to time as reporters working to deadlines do not have the chance to correct their work that most other workers have. But mistakes are infrequent and Mr. Ashenden would probably be pleasantly surprised if he allowed the news media a little more of his confidence.
His second point has more weight, however. A speaker may go in fear of his Job or his social position if what he says is circulated more widely. This is the reason why newspapers allow anonymous letters to the editor, providing the writer lets the editor know his real name.
But an editor is able to scan such correspondence to make sure it is fair and accurate before he puts it into his paper. A Forum chairman can only slam the sonic hatch after the Steed of Slander has flown.
If those in full possession of the facts are prevented from hearing, axe grinders and scandalmongers will thrive in an atmosphere of half-truths and the students will be the worse off.
The problem is then, how to suppress irresponsibility while still limiting the audience when speakers have provocative material to present but have genuine reasons for not wishing their authorship to circulate freely.
The solution seems to lie with the chairman. There is no reason why he could not reach agreement with the press not to publish any material which, in his discretion, he feels should not go past Forum.
Such discretion should be exercised only after careful consideration.
Some of these remarks might apply equally or in part to other closeted gatherings which take place from time to time around the university — Penn Pattison.