The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 72
In the House a few days ago the Minister of Lands announced his intention to introduce a Bill dealing with newspapers, which he darkly hinted would make libel impossible in the future. This wonderful measure has at last been circulated, and a perusal of it can only lead to the conviction that the notoriously thin-skinned man who, according to Mr. Pi rani, muddles the land business of the colony, wishes to commit the country to a real orgie of newspaper repression. Mr. McKenzie, who imagines that he has suffered dreadfully at the hands of anonymous writers, has indeed apparently made up his mind to squelch them at once and for ever, and so possess his soul in peace, and in order to do this effectually he has gone to the dark ages for inspiration. The Bill provides that any printed matter (other than letters) appearing in any newspaper, which contains any comment, direct or indirect, on the public affairs of the colony, or on the acts or conduct of any person in the colony, must be signed by the real name of the writer, or the proprietor, editor, printer, and publisher (the printer's devil is mercifully exempted) page 21 will be liable to a fine of not less than £5 or more than £50. The absolute silliness of such a provision must be apparent to anyone, when it is remembered that there is hardly a paragraph in a newspaper which does not comment in some way on the public affairs of the colony or on the acts of persons in it, and every one of these, if only one sentence, would need to have the "true and full name and address of the writer" appended to it. The same provision would apply to the cables from Europe and Australia and the interprovincial telegrams, each one of which, if the newspaper proprietor, editor, printer, and publisher, as aforesaid, are to be exempt from fine or imprisonment, must be followed by the name and address of the sender. A newspaper would thus become simply a sheet of full names and addresses repeated every day with a sickening reiteration, with little scraps of news sandwiched between them. A shining literary light must Mr. John McKenzie be to plan such a newspaper. Of the malicious vindictiveness of the author against newspapers, the production which he seeks to dignify by the appellation of a "Bill" supplies plenty of evidence. Thus, the thing is so worded that the newspaper proprietor, editor, printer, and publisher may be exposed to a whole fusilade of law actions for the publication of one innocent paragraph. For instance, if a newspaper should comment on the actions of any individual and inadvertently omit the name of the writer, action may be taken, first by the authorities against the proprietor, editor, printer, and publisher, for publishing matter without appending the name and address of the writer. Then the person whose actions have been the subject of comment may bring an action for libel. As the failure to-print the name and address of the writer is expressly declared to be evidence of malice, Mr. McKenzie literally seeks to throw the newspaper to the dogs, for a verdict for plaintiff would, under those circumstances, be a foregone conclusion. Indeed, no such ludicrously silly or vindictive Bill has ever before been brought into the House of Representatives, and when the Minister of Lands has disappeared from the stage there will be no danger that such a one ever will be again. The newspaper editor is Mr. McKenzie's "bogieman," his "social pest," his chief aversion, but no Parliament could be so asinine, so lost to every consideration of public good and private liberty as to vote for a Bill which contains internal evidence of a hatred to journalists amounting almost to monomania.