Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Vol 35 no. 24. 28th September 1972
the cock saga continues... — While Tozer goes for "Substantial Damages" what Happened to "Freedom of Speech"
the cock saga continues...
While Tozer goes for "Substantial Damages" what Happened to "Freedom of Speech".
It's always handy to be in the Police force when you want to play around with the law to suit yourself. Take Chris Wheeler's June 29 confrontation with Wellington CIB over his supposed "criminal libel" of Detective-Sergeant Tozer of Christ-church CIB. Now, nearly three months after the police raid on Chris's Cock headquarters and removal of all his files they've apparently decided not to proceed with a prosecution. Which is very handy for Det-Serg Tozer, whose lawyer, Brian McClelland, of McClelland, Wood, Mackay and McVeigh (regular police lawyers), will by now have Wellington CIB's assessment of how much they think Christopher Robin is worth. During their raid the Police apparently asked a number of questions about how much Cock's equipment is worth. As Chris has now been sent a letter by McClelland etc saying they intend to issue a writ for "substantial damages" it's obvious that they think they can get the money out of him by forcing sale of his printing gear. Perhaps members of the constabulary are hunting up an MBE for putting Cock out of business, which would no doubt make the police, who've never been very interested in things like freedom of speech, quite glad.
What is more to the point and what makes this whole business begin to stink a little high, is that Chris put out a public apology which was circulated all over the country over two months ago- and without being asked by either the Tozers, McClelland etc or the Police. After all, although Chris muckrakes in the old tradition, his stories when not just based on the sort of conjecture everybody indulges in, have the ring of truth. No-one in its five year history has ever successfully sued Cock which says a lot for its accuracy. The fact that he made a mistake over Det-Serg Tozer's background has been admitted by Chris in public and Tozer should be satisfied.
It's highly unlikely that with Cock's relatively small readership that the Tozers have been at all meterially damaged in any way, particularly when you consider that the sort of people who read Cock chose ideological sides long ago. Cock is mostly read by an already converted audience. Certainly none of Tozer's mates probably believe a word in it. So all it comes down to in the end is revenge. Its not revenge on Tozer's part, but on the part of the Kiwi Establishment; nor for a mere five lines or so tucked away in a regrettably poorly circulated magazine, but revenge against Cock for having stayed around criticising people and things for so long without going under to the sort of pressure the Kiwi Establishment can put up when it feels itself attacked.
Which brings us back to that little business of freedom of speech. Obviously when you've got free speech some things are going to be said which are going to be wrong or untrue. That doesn't matter much in the free speech society because sooner or later someone's going to point out the error and the situation will be corrected.
In Cock's case a correction has been made. A very widely publicised one too.
If we've got free speech in New Zealand the matter should rest there. It won't because we haven't and we're not going to get it until the whole law of libel is overhauled in this country so that a lot more of the facts about our society get out. They're not getting out at the moment and we shouldn't have to rely on the sporadic voice of Chris Wheeler's Cock to fill the obvious news gap.
As Vic. Law prof. Geoffrey Palmer remarked in a widely publicised article in a recent issue of the NZ Law Journal "We need uninhibited, robust and wide open debate on public issues in New Zealand. We are not getting it and we will not get it unless the libel laws are altered."
Jack Marshall told National Party supporters at Wyndham on July 8 that damages should not be awarded in libel cases unless real loss or damages could be proved in court. It should be interesting to see if The Bridgebuilder intends to put his money where his mouth is and do something about the whole defamation law. While he's about it he could also get rid of the criminal libel section in the Crimes Act. Unless they just want it there to frighten off editors who haven't been bought out by Dan Riddiford's Wellington Publishing Company there's no need in law for it to be there at all.