The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 72
Having perpetrated his little joke and caused dismay in the camp of his traducers, Mr. McKenzie will act wisely in withdrawing his Bill. The right of the people to criticise the acts of public men fearlessly is, after all, scarcely a proper subject for joking. It is too closely bound up with our liberties; and, now that the power of the State is rapidly growing, and its functions and influence extending into every department of commercial life, more than ever is it necessary to preserve that most important of all safeguards against corruption and tyranny, the freedom of the press. In defence of that, the press of all shades of political opinion will stand as one, and will be backed by the unanimous voice of the people.
As we have said, we cannot treat Mr. McKenzie's Bill seriously. A man of less experience in public affairs than the Minister of Lands would know that freedom of speech, which is the birthright of every Briton, won by centuries of fierce struggle, may not be taken away or placed in trammels by a scrappy Bill of a few clauses hastily strung together. We would, however, strongly urge the Government to take up the revision of the existing libel law in earnest. It contains many relics of the dark ages, some of which have been cleared away in England, although retained in New Zealand. The public are still indebted to newspaper proprietors for fearless and impartial reports of the proceedings of their public bodies. There is no privilege attached to them here, although they are privileged in England. This and some other vexatious provisions which tend to make journals the prey of unscrupulous lawyers and adventurers, and which ensure the safety of scoundrels from exposure, ought to be amended.
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