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Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria University College, Wellington N.Z. Vol. 21, No. 5. May 6, 1958

On Censorship—a Justification

On Censorship—a Justification

The Editor:

Sir,—At the last meeting of the Executive of the Students Union, grave concern was expressed to you concerning certain offensive comments contained in your issue of 27th March. After hearing you at that meeting: after putting it to you that certain comments were in poor taste, to say the least, and possibly actionable: after hearing your reply that, had you the same situation again, you would print those comments in toto (with the exception of one heading): the Executive further resolved that in future all copy which you proposed to publish be first submitted to the President or his nominee, before being set up for printing.

A formal agreement was made in 1949 between the Association and the then Principal, Sir Thomas Hunter, to the effect that all material that would be published in "Salient" would be seen by the President, whom the Professorial Board would regard as personally responsible for such act of publication. The agreement has been tacitly renewed by succeeding Executives of the student body, and such an agreement exists at this time.

Should a youthful and over-zealous person be appointed to the Editorship of "Salient", there is a possibility that, despite the vigilance of printers, comments might appear in print to which objection and successful legal action might be taken. To the extent that the President of the Association, together with the Editor, would be liable, to that extent it is plainly desirable for the Executive to see to its interests.

Normally the Executive would be expected to see to its interests when it appoints the Editor, and would therefore have regard to such matters as maturity and commonsense as well as the technical qualifications of the appointees.

It would be expected that censorship of opinion, particularly the opinion of the highest educational institution in the country, is not lightly regarded by the Executive. To this extent, Executive's concern is that reasonable laws of the land are complied with: if an Editor, after his appointment, gives strong indications that he is either unaware of, or negligent with regard to, these reasonable laws, then it is clearly if reluctantly the duty of some higher organisation to enforce this compliance.

Executive's policy on this matter is clear: as publisher, it has a legal duty, and as the supreme arbiter of student affairs it has a moral duty, to guide the Editor in the exercise of his responsibilities. What opinions are offered on what matters, through the columns of this subsidised newspaper, is the sole concern of the Editor. If an abuse or other situation exists on which strong opinions exist, it is proper and desirable that these opinions should be expressed, regardless of whether self-righteous umbrage is taken by the subjects of that opinion. When, however, comments are made regarding the character of a public figure, it is clearly desirable that some discretion be exercised by the Editor when he makes the decision to publish: it seems further desirable that opinions of another's character, if true and in the interests of the public, should be supported by more concrete evidence than a mere opinion.

An eminent American judge said some years ago that "freedom of speech" did not give a person the right to cry "Fire!" in a crowded theatre. Executive considers that "freedom of the Press" similarly does not mean freedom to publish everything and anything that may be contributed. Clearly there are limits; responsibilities bring in their train obligations, and Executive's view is that there has been a regrettable lapse on the part of the Editor, on this matter.

A further resolution, to the effect that you be informed that your period of editorship will be reviewed at the end of the first term, is designed to indicate to you the gravity with which Executive considers these matters.

It is a matter of some regret that it seems necessary to restate the issues as Executive saw them when it made the decisions it did. You were present during the majority of the discussion on the matter, and said nothing to indicate that you recognised your obligations. Yours faithfully,

B. C. Shaw,

Honorary Secretary, V.U.W. Students' Union.