The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 72
From first to last Mr. McKenzie, the Minister of Lands, has had very little real cause of complaint against the newspaper press of the colony. He has, indeed, been treated with exceptional generosity and forbearance. It is true that his occasional statements with regard to the success of his special settlement associations have been impugned, but the official figures have proved conclusively that the critics were right and the Minister wrong. The Minister went by the number of the members of the associations—the paper settlers—; the press critics looked at the reality—the amount of bonâ fide settlement, or such as was likely to prove permanent. It is true also that the Minister's dummy-hunts and his methods of hunting gave rise to much unfavourable comment, but the facts amply bore out the criticism; and on one remarkable occasion a Judge of the Supreme Court, sitting in the seat of justice, was unable to refrain from an expression of opinion with regard to the Minister's methods, or those of his subordinates, far more condemnatory than anything which had appeared in the newspapers. But, on the other hand, the newspapers have, almost without exception, given the Minister of Lands credit for an honest desire to administer his department solely in the interests of the public, and especially of that part of the community either profitably settled on the land or anxious to be so settled. He has also been credited with untiring energy in the prosecution of his work, and where he has failed or erred, the failures have been attributed to lack of means or want of opportunity, and the errors to defective judgment. Of course there has been some unfair partisan criticism, but on the whole the press of the colony has been friendly to the Minister of Lands, and has forgiven him a good deal because of a belief in his anxiety to do the right thing and to do it energetically. The newspapers sympathised heartily with the Minister in his hatred of dummyism; they merely complained that he sometimes expended his energy in wrong directions. They sympathised with him in his efforts to plant the small settler on the land, and to prevent the rich man grabbing what was intended for the poor; but they took the liberty of pointing out that his associations opened the door for a huge amount of exactly the sort of trafficking which it was his object to put a stop to. But the Minister of Lands has returned evil for good. He has introduced a measure whose sole objects are to insult and injure the newspaper press of the colony. His bantling is named the Newspaper Libel Limitation Bill, a title which is in itself an insult, for it implies that the newspapers are given over to the vice of libelling people, and that the time has come when the propensity should be curbed. On Saturday last we gave an abstract of the Bill, and need not go over the same around again. Suffice it to say that the anonymity of press writers would be effectually destroyed. Not only would it be necessary to place at the foot of every leading article the name and address of the writer, but three parts of the paragraphs, usually called locals, would be subject to the same condition. Leader writers who understand their business would not be personally injured, and in many instances they would derive benefit from the new arrangement. It would be a capital advertisement for them as journalists, but nevertheless the whole character of the colony's journalism would be altered for the worse, and what is now accepted by the public as the opinion of page 34 the paper (and rightly so) would simply appear as the utterance of the individual. In countless instances that would be much less than the truth, for the journalist follows public opinion as well as directs it, and a substantial meaning attaches to the editorial "we" To the proprietors of newspapers the provisions of Mr. McKenzie's Bill might prove a source of substantial loss, and they certainly would be an almost intolerable nuisance to readers. In another issue we may have something further to say about Mr. McKenzie's spiteful attack on the newspapers, but it is hardly possible that Parliament will allow it to be successful.