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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 72

The Record (Inglewood)

page 25

The Record (Inglewood).

One of the most unpopular, egotistical and obstinate politicians that ever filled the position of Minister for Lands in this colony is the Hon. John McKenzie. He bears a strong antipathy to those directly connected with the press of this country, and, indeed, all those newspaper correspondents who differ from him as a land administrator, and who express their disapproval of his pet fad, the lease in perpetuity system of land tenure. Being acquainted with his political life and idiosyncracies, we are not surprised to find that his thin-skinnedness has prompted him to introduce, as a Government measure, the Newspaper Libel Limitation Bill, which provides that "all newspaper correspondence and all loading articles must have attached the names of the writers." The journalists of this colony have been asking the Legislature for years past for bread, speaking in a metaphorical sense, but Mr. thin-skin McKenzie will not even give them the proverbial stone; he is desirous that the name of every political opponent of his should be disclosed, so that he may mete out punishment accordingly—an unheard-of line of action for any public man worthy of the name to follow, and a movement which we trust will meet with the contempt it deserves in a country inhabited in the main by law-abiding and liberty-loving people. This is not the proposed act of the Czar of all Russias, but of a Minister of a democratic colony of the British Empire, and a country which has made greater progress in political life than probably any other part of Her Majesty's dominions, owing to the freedom which its press has enjoyed. This precious Ministerial bantling "also defines what comment shall be actionable, and exempts from action for libel legitimate comment on public affairs and public acts," but does not, we presume, extend its operations to those autocratic Ministers whose acts are frequently opposed to the best interests of the people. A provision of this latter character would not suit Mr. McKenzie or other members of the present Ministry we could name. They are, in his opinion, immaculate, but not so the well-meaning journalist or the newspaper writer, who, for good reasons, wishes to maintain his anonymity, rather than be subjected to the wrath of the Minister for Lands or any of his colleagues. We can fancy what Mr. McKenzie's dictum would be as to "fair comment" if he or any other member of his political clan were made the subject of newspaper criticism—in fact, his decision would be a foregone conclusion in the opinion of most people. The journalists of this colony have been endeavouring for years past to have the law of libel assimilated to that in existence in England, but the professional politicians of this country have up to the present time prevented such being done, and honest pressmen are still at the mercy of every "man of straw" who may seek election during a parliamentary campaign, or any unscrupulous individual who may have been associated with some matter which has formed the subject of a newspaper article, penned in the interests of the public at large. We believe in the principle of "liberty, not license" in regard to the discussion of public matters, and therefore are entirely opposed to Mr. McKenzie's little Bill, which is really a veiled attempt to give concessions to members of the Fourth Estate and at the same time rob them of some of the privileges they and their correspondents at present enjoy. If Mr. McKenzie cannot accept legitimate criticism in regard to any of his public acts in a fair spirit, the sooner he retires from the arena of party strife and devotes himself to more congenial employment the better will it be for himself and the community generally.