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The Spike: or, Victoria University College Review, June 1924

The Debate

The Debate.

The contest for the Joynt Scroll took place in the Town Hall on the evening of Easter Monday. The Mayor, Mr. R. A. Wright, M.P., occupied the chair. The first debate was not so much a contest between Canterbury and Auckland as between the united speakers and the stage managers of the gladiatorial combat behind the scenes. These benevolent gentlemen seemed to labour under the impression that the fancy of the audience was more likely to be captivated by a pleasing-medley reminiscent of a lawn-mower descending the stairs rapidly into a glasshouse at the bottom than by the serious business of the evening, namely, a consideration of the merits and deemrits of modern journalism. This idea was unfortunately delusive. The audience began to regret a wasted evening. Finally, matters came to a head. A member of the audience rose and protested. The chairman, hitherto quiescent, was stung into activity at last, and Mr. A. B. Thompson, of Auckland, the last speaker of the debate, was the first to be audible. It is high time, one would think, that University students should learn the elements of fair play. As Mr. De la Mare has pointed out, it is not generally considered sportsmanlike for the spectators to interfere with an page 20 athletic contest. But in a debating contest tripping and obstruction is entirely legitimate.

What we did hear of Messrs. Brassington and Field above the smashing of glass and the crackling of thorns under a pot that went withal was not very specific. They breathed suspicion at every pore, but vented no specific grievance. The papers gave the public what it wanted at best and what monied interests decided it wanted at worst. In either case the standard was not high The Auckland men spoke better than they argued. Mr. Black, leading for Auckland, wandered away into the sixteenth century, and failed to extricate himself very successfully. The press had won its freedom toilsomely, and its freedom should be respected. If the press gave the public what it wanted and the wants of the public were not ideal, reform the people first. The press would follow in due course. Mr. A. B. Thompson spoke clearly and well. and did not allow a rowdy section of the audience to daunt him. The press was not controlled by moneyed interests in New Zealand. It reproduced the voice of the people faithfully and well.

The second debate touched higher flights than the first. Mr. Campbell alone of the speakers of the evening made a good debating speech. He was specific and pointed—perhaps, as it seems in retrospect, too pointed. His reference to Mr. De la Mare's exposure of the Auckland "Star" especially was a barb that drew blood. Otago's speakers were very weak. Mr. Barrowclough ascended again to Mephclococygia with a fresh flux of generalities. The press was an educational medium. His opponents obviously intended the demolition of the press. It was a vicious and ill-meaning attack on the cause of the furtherance of knowledge. Mr. Martin-Smith failed to correct Mr. Barrowclough. Had he shown that the need was for a purified press, and advocated some practicable measure of reform, Otago's arguments would have crumbled up like a pricked balloon. He quoted Dr. Johnson's "garrets full of soldiers who have learned to rob and journalists who have learned to lie" with enjoyment, handsomely exonerated the U.S.A., and sternly refused to perform a like service for the Press. For the rest he said that every true man loved a lie; the truth was usually unpalatable. And newspapers had to consider their public and their advertisers, and conceal the naked truth sedulously. Miss Todhunter's argument had not been anticipated and forestalled by Mr. Martin-Smith. She reiterated Mr. Barrowclough's plea, What would happen without the Press? Her opposers had not shown what they were going to do about it. Apparently they intended the demolition of the press. Miss Todliunter waved a "Dominion" genially at the audience, and read a matrimonial advertisement there from to the evident delight of the judges. Otago was placed first, and Mr. Martin-Smith was ad-judged the best speaker of the evening. Victoria was given second place, with Auckland and Canterbury third and fourth. The extra-ordinary nature of this placing was amazing, not alone to the supporters of Victoria, and we are quite at a loss to account for it, at least from the inherent merits of the debate.