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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 72

Grey River Argus

Grey River Argus.

The Hon. John McKenzie is in some respects a most remarkable gentleman. His ambition to become a great land and social reformer is simply unbounded. He would apparently reform creation and make people live by rule and compass, or according to his ideas. He is a would-be Draco. Just now he has a very large order in hand. Apparently he has been smarting from the annoyance of some of the shafts of the slaves of the press. Of course it was very wicked of those slaves to pen anything in any way derogatory to this high and mighty land Lycurgus and general all-round, go-as-you-please reformer, and they ought to be severely admonished not to do so again. But it was really too awful of him altogether to visit the first sins of those scribes against himself on all the others of the colony, who, generally speaking, manage to treat his Lairdship with that deference which is no doubt properly due to his exalted position. It is really unkind, and shows a want of consideration that we ought not to expect from so exalted and infallible a person as the M. of L. to bring down a measure that is calculated to strike terror to the very vitals of every editor and newspaper proprietor in the colony. "Freedom of the Press!" "The Fourth Estate of the Realm!" "The bulwark of the liberties of the people!" Bah! These titles and claims are all pure bosh! The Hon. Mr. McKenzie says so! He intends to reform all that. The time has evidently come when the press should be chained up or muzzled like a useful watch-dog, as may serve the purpose required. He will allow it to bark, but it must do it by the card. If the Minister of Lands can manage to carry his "little reform Bill," the editor who will dare to "comment upon the public affairs of the colony," or "on the act or conduct of any person of the colony," must be either a very bold person or a rampant idiot. There are no half measures with the Minister of Lands, no give and take, or such a thing as expediency. As he intends to ram his Lands for Settlement Bill down the throat of the House, as old divines in a certain persuasion in times a little remote used to administer Gospel texts, he will no doubt do the same with the Newspaper Libel Limitation Bill, or try it on. There is a picnic in store for the House, and all the gods and little fishes. The thing is very funny, that a politician from a small farm settlement should embark on a crusade to abolish the customs of ages and prove to the whole world that the system on which journalism is conducted in all the English-speaking communities is quite wrong in principle and practice, and so vicious as to urgently demand immediate and thorough reform. Do spare us, oh, most Hon. John! a little—just a little longer! Give us at least one more opportunity to reform ourselves, as even the House of Lords was vouchsafed the opportunity; otherwise we might all, jointly and severally, expire in the throes of the Gargantuan laugh that would be almost certain to rend our diaphragm and explode us utterly and for ever and ever. Our Wellington correspondent furnishes us with the following precis of this innocent but very necessa little reform Bill:—"Under the Hon. Mr. McKenzie's Newspaper Libel Limitation Bill an article is defined as any printed matter (other than letters) appearing in any newspaper and containing any comment, direction, direct or indirect, on the public affairs of the colony, or on any act or conduct of any person in the colony. Every article or letter must have attached the full name and address of the writer, otherwise the editor, proprietor, printer, and publisher shall be severally liable page 31 to fines of from £5 to £50, to be recovered summarily. Provided that the name and address is appended to a letter, and it is published without malice, no one but the writer is to be responsible for libel. No fines as above shall be a bar to civil or criminal proceedings for libel. In any proceedings for libel the fact that the full name and address was not printed at first shall be evidence of express malice." "Honest John!"