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Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 29, No. 12. 1966.

Forum and the press

Forum and the press

Sir,—Even if you don't even understand what is the basic objection to the Victoria executives' attempt to keep the daily and student press out of Forum, please do not mislead your readers. On the front page of Salient 10 "Salient reporter" writes: "The motion, which in its initial form would have given all news media the right to report Forum. . . ."

The basic point in my questioning of the wisdom of the executive's action was that the executive can't give or take away from the press its right to report Forum. The best they can do is to push them underground. Since when did your paper decide it would accept the fiat of the executive or the students' association, that you "do not report or publish," since when has the daily press been bound by the motions of the Victoria University of Wellington Students' Association?

Since the exec has no power to take away the right of the dailies to publish we can't really give it back to them, can we?

Knowledge that the motion was passed by the executive, and remains on the books, may lull students into a false security. The affirmation of the motion by the executive and the SGM provides no guarantee that Forum will not be reported. This association has no legal power to restrict what the papers publish (within the pounds of fair comment) even though the association may, and the Council almost certainly have, the power to declare that a non-student journalist is trespassing by being on campus.

But as we can only exert moral and political pressure on the dailies not to print (and damn little of that), and as it is extremely unlikely we could enforce a trespass law consistently, the motion does not achieve its apparent aims. Mr. Ashenden is right, I believe, in insisting that the presence of muck raking reporters at Forum would be undesirable.

The distortions which some have wrought in the past demonstrate the point admirably, but the inescapable fact remains, we can't effectively exclude them if we want to.

Furthermore, whilst the motion fails to achieve its objective, it is also potentially harmful. Without even considering the principle of free speech here, which is, of second hand reports. They can be honourably motivated to do this in "the public interest."

Potentially this situation could lead to worse than we have already suffered. Mis-reporting of information heard first hand is one thing, but to commit the same sin on second hand interpretations would really lead to some wonderful tales. Let's face it, when a student speaks to 500 shuffling and unknown students the chances are quite high that there will be at least one who has no objection to feeding information to the press.

Speaking to that many people is mass communications at its basic sense, furthermore, and anything that gets on to the mass communications network can go further than the cloisters of the ivory tower.

The student who is also a course, most relevant, it is possible to conclude that journalists, being disgusted by an attempt to create what they believe to be like a secret society, will seek to publish journalist is probably placed in the most invidious of positions:

When is he defined as a student, when as a journalist, when you start enforcing your "exclude journalists" motion?

Thus Salient, too, when under an editorship at variance with the establishment, is left open for direct censorship by the executive on matters of opinion that can be traced to a Forum speaker. You have already published information from Forum, and rightly so, but Mr. Ashenden and the executive's blanket restriction implicitly forbade you to.

The only advance on the executive motion is the until now unreported statement of Mr. Ashenden's from the SGM when he said what seemed to me, to be that he did not object to feature articles drawing on Forum for material. It's a small mercy, and an unsure one; ready for reinterpretation when Mr. Ashenden or an executive change their mood.

So students should note: The motion does not safeguard them from repercussions on unguarded Forum comments, it will stimulate furtive reporting, it is of dubious principle, it puts the student journalist in one hell of a position, it leaves the association paper open to a form of censorship that no student editor I have ever had any respect for would lay himself open to, it gives the executive undefined power of interpretation and most importantly seems to achieve something that it cannot.

Despite the affirmations of the motion's supporters, I remain convinced that the stricture should be viewed with concern, and observe that the sooner Mr. Ashenden produces his promised constitution for evaluation, the better.

A. Haas.