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Thursday, 31 May 1928

Mr THOMPSON (New England) .- I moveThat the following new clause be added: - 25a. After section one hundred and sixtyfour of the principal act the following section is inserted: - " 1«4a. Any newspaper which publishes any article, letter, paragraph, or advertisement commenting upon any member of the Parliament, or any candidate for the Parliament, shall within the next succeeding issue, or such other issue as the member or candidate shall desire, publish in a prominent part of the paper usually devoted to such matters any reply by the member or candidate:

Provided that it shall not be a contravention of this section for a newspaper to excise statements which cannot be construed as fair comment upon the article, letter, paragraph or advertisement complained of; but so as not to destroy the relevancy of the reply. Penalty: Fifty pounds."

My proposal deals with a serious grievance that many honorable members have had for years. Some newspapers, which are not actuated by motives of strict fairness, publish unfair articles or letters that while not actually coming within the law of libel, cast serious reflections upon honorable members, and cause them a certain amount of annoyance and pain.

Mr PARKHILL (WARRINGAH, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Surely the honorable member does not wish to silence them altogether !

Mr THOMPSON - No. I shall deal with the matter briefly. Sometimes honorable members have sent to newspapers replies to criticisms of themselves, and. publication of their replies has been refused. I, myself, have had that experience, although not very often. I have more than an ordinary amount of access to the press. I can get all the publicity that I require and am not dependent upon the metropolitan or any other newspapers for publicity in my electorate. Still, there have been times when I have had to reply to certain criticisms of movements with which I have been associated. My letters in reply have been either seriously bowdlerized or else refused publication altogether. Some twelve months ago a country uewspaper published a leading article containing serious and incorrect reflections upon my association with the new State movement. The statement was very close to being libellous, but was not sufficient to justify me in issuing a writ. I wrote a courteous letter to the newspaper, drawing attention to the statement and asking for publicity; but, without any explanation at all, my request was refused. When I made inquiry, a paltry excuse was made, and I was told that my letter would not be published. The real reason for the refusal was that my letter showed the absurdity of the newspaper's article, and made the proprietors look very foolish. That attack did not hurt me very much, still, I object to the principle that a newspaper can publish unfair and inaccurate articles about public men and then refuse a reply. A public man -can be shot at from all quarters, and he should have more than the right of the average citizen to defend himself, because the average citizen as a rule is not attacked in connexion with public matters. If the proposed new section is inserted in the Electoral Act, it will have a salutary effect upon the newspapers. Many honorable members might not deem it worth while to take action, but they would have the legal right to demand the publication of a reply to an unfair attack. A newspaper, of course, would have the right to sub-edit the reply, and to give it the prominence in its columns that it thought necessary; but it would have to give some reilly. Although this might not be an altogether satisfactory method of redress for the honorable member so attacked, he would know that, 0 if tha press refused to publish a reply to attacks or criticism contained in its columns, he could take proceedings, not by way of writ for libel or defamation, but in the ordinary police court. In addition, the matter could be brought under the notice of the PostmasterGeneral, who might also be able to take some action. At any rate, under this proposed section, honorable members who are directly criticized by newspapers would feel that they had some method of redress that is not open to them now. The majority of newspapers are very fair, and will publish replies to criticism contained in their columns; but that does not apply to all, and especially to some big metropolitan papers, which are often most unfair in their attacks on public men, especially politicians. I leave the proposed new section in the hands of the committee, and I trust that it will be accepted.

Proposed new clause negatived. Proposed new clause 25b -

Section proposed to be amended -105. (1) A person shall not exhibit or leave in any polling booth, any card or paper having thereon any direction or instruction as to how an elector should rote or as to the method of voting.

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