Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Vol 35 no. 19. 3rd August 1972
Editorial — Speak No Evil
Speak No Evil
A couple of points to be borne in mind before you fall asleep over the Listener controversy:
Firstly, the freedom of speech aspect of the affair has been ludicrously overplayed. A Daily Mail editorial once pointed out that "perhaps the real reason we have always been able to champion free speech in Great Britain is that we know perfectly well that hardly anybody has got anything to say, and that no-one will listen to anyone that has." To the dismay of the local liberals, this is also true in the case of the N.Z. Listener. Even National parliamentary aspirant Barry Brill had to admit last week that no-one that he knew in or near Government had ever been embarrassed by MacLeod's opinions.
This is not to deny that the government had some say in the sacking. What else can be expected of a government that has just upped the amount squandered on Security to just less than half a million dollars. Indeed parliamentary paranoia knows no bounds, but in this case it has vastly exceeded the comprehension of the average New Zealander. Whoever remembers a MacLeod editorial? Whoever has tapped, or been tapped by a friend on the shoulder imploring him to see the latest Listener editorial "It's a must", Whoever felt remotely inspired to snip it out and sent it to his favourite conservative, or felt inspired to give a gift subscription. The answer is "nobody". MacLeod is vaguely remembered for having taken a so-called stand on some or other safe issue - perhaps the tour, or was it the pill? He is not remembered for ever having tried to exert his considerable influence in the innumerable ways he could have had a positive impact. MacLeod was no more than the NZBC's tame liberal, and 'freedom of speech' is not the whole issue by any means.
One of the reasons the government has given for the sacking has been unjustly ignored by the out-criers. This is that MacLeod had unsatisfactory relations with his staff. This too is bureaucratic pussyfooting — in fact staff relations at the Listener had been the subject of an official Public Service Association complaint, and many staff will be happier with MacLeod out of the chair.
There is simply no newspaper crusade in NZ so uncompromisingly strong that disrespect for staff is excusable. The facts about Listener staff relations — that they were all too often terse, unfriendly, even oppressive — all confirm that MacLeod has delusions of self-importance, which may be tolerable, but that he inflicted them on his staff, which is intolerable.
From an altogether different point of view, we would do well to look at what the sacking has done for Alexander MacLeod. For one thing, there will be no shortage of jobs for him. Hopefully he will stick to straight comment, so that he doesn't have a staff to alienate, and so that we will find out for sure whether he really does have something to say. Whatever happens to him, we may be sure that if he does have some little grasp of reality, then he is content to be fired. To have an editor within a bureaucracy liked by that bureaucracy is to have a eunuch pushing the pen. An editor begins to do his job when he raises eyebrows or preferably hackles. And for an editor to be sacked means that in the sweating groin of politics at least, his crabbed claws have succeeded in pinching the real organ which most of us weren't even sure existed.