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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 72

Nelson Mail

page 42

Nelson Mail.

According to a telegram published yesterday from our Parliamentary correspondent, the Minister of Lands has fulfilled his promise to bring down a Libel Bill, and this is amply confirmed by a message published to-day. It will be remembered that he undertook to produce a measure which would effectually prevent libels in the future. His scheme to do this is to force writers of leading articles and letters in newspapers to sign their names. Mr. McKenzie is not fond of accepting suggestions, but if he were someone might well propose that the Bill should apply only to newspapers unfriendly to the Government, and that a Board consisting of the Minister of Lands and two officers of his Department should be set up to decide the question as to which papers should be regarded as friendly and which unfriendly. The practice of signing leading articles is common enough in France, and certainly has its advantages, especially for clever writers. Under the anonymous system a man may write like Macaulay all his life without earning personal fame. Everything goes to the reputation of the paper and nothing to that of the individual. On the other hand if all articles were signed with the real names of the writers, papers would be deprived of services of many of their present contributors whom it would not suit to make known their connection with the press. Writing would also be judged rather by the reputation of the author than by its own merit. At present everything that appears in the leading columns of a newspaper has weight according to its real worth, but if everything were signed the first thing looked at would generally be the name at the foot, and the article would be judged accordingly. In the case of ordinary newspaper correspondence it would nearly come to an end if all the writers were obliged to disclose themselves. There are numerous subjects on which people who do not like to sign their names for publication can write to great advantage, and it would be a public loss to put a stop to so useful a means of stating grievances or making suggestions. If Mr. McKenzie's Bill were made law there would not be the least difficulty in evading it without danger. In every town the names of the editors of the newspapers are well known. If the editor of each paper were to sign every article with his own name, whoever might be the writer, there would be no possibility of punishing him. The worst that could be said would be that the editor was guilty of using other people's thoughts and work which is not an offence at law. Publicity would be given to the names of a number of editors who are at present little known outside their own towns, but it is doubtful whether that would gratify Mr. McKenzie. It is impossible to help admiring the versatility of the genius of the Minister of Lands. Nothing is too great or too small for him. His mind is like the elephant's trunk, which can pick up a pin or tear down a tree. Mr. McKenzie can produce a Bill to enable him to turn any landowner out of his estate, and he can also introduce one, which he knows will never pass, to annoy newspaper proprietors and newspaper writers, because all the journals of the colony do not join in singing his praise.