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Friday, 15 December 1905

Mr WILKS (Dalley) - This amendment appears to me to have for its object the coddling of candidates for public life. Public men must not be hypersensitive, because if they are it? will be a great surprise to me if they are ever elected. It is going altogether too far to call upon a newspaper to publish a reply to its criticism. Take the two morning newspapers in Melbourne. When one newspaper has published a hostile criticism of a candidate, invariably the other newspaper will present the other side of the case. If newspapers overreach themselves they will fail to accomplish the object of their criticism, as they did here in the case of Senator Trenwith. He was most warmly assailed by all the (powerful organs, but, in spite of their criticisms, he was returned at the head of the poll by an enormous majority. Hostile criticism is . the best thing in the world for a candidate for public honours, or for a Member of Parliament. The trouble with most of the newspapers is that they do not know Gow to spell our names. Very often we wonder whether they have in their linotype machines any ot the characters which are required to represent our names. I really cannot understand any one asking the Committee to enact this coddling provision. When a public man has initiated an action for libel against a private individual, what has generally been the result! ? Time after time a jury has refused to award damages in a case of that kind. All this goes to show that jurymen consider that a public man is fair game for criticism. If, on the other hand, the criticism of a newspaper will not bear inspection, it will soon be dropped. If this amendment1 be carried, I shall expect to see a more hypersensitive member of the House proposing that no interjections shall be allowed to be made at a public meeting, and that henceforth candidates _will have to. talk to " dead " audiences. I suppose that by-and-by it will be proposed that reports of public meetings shall only appear: in that most respectable organ, the War Cry. The honorable member for Coolgardie said that a newspaper appeals to an audience of 100,000 persons, but the average number of electors in a constituency is not more than 30,000. If his argument had any application at all, it could only apply to a Senate election, and, all the newspapers of a State fighting for or against a candidate it is not reasonable to believe that the proprietors and editors would combine in common criticism against him if it were not fairly justifiable. If I can pass through " yellow " journalism and get returned, surely every other honorable member can survive hostile criticism.

Mr. ISAACS(Indi - Attorney-General). - I wish to point out to the honorable member for Coolgardie that this amendment is really impracticable. Take the case of a candidate who was fighting his way through ?a huge constituency in the country, and who, a few days after its publication, received a copy of a metropolitan newspaper, containing certain statements, what would he have to do? He could not go near a Judge. He would have to bring before, a police magistrate, if one could be caught in a remote corner of the State, the publisher of the newspaper, and make him show cause why he should not print an explanation.

Mr Mahon - Could he not wire to a solicitor in Melbourne to put the case before a Judge?

Mr ISAACS - Does the honorable member expect the candidate to leave the constituency and go down to the metropolis and enter into the field of litigation for the purpose of getting an order, which might) be combated for a considerable time, perhaps until after the election was over. But, to put the matter on higher ground, newspapers have very high public functions to perform We cannot forget that when they are dealing with great public matters they Have just as important a duty to discharge as honorable members or candidates. The press has to advise and inform the public of what is going on. We have tonight, by means of another amendment, gone a long way in the direction of protecting candidates as to statements of fact by newspapers ; and in this we have followed English law. But if we say that no newspaper, however honest its criticism may be, is to perform a great public function, except under fear of being hailed before a Judge, or a magistrate, and compelled to publish some explanation, or socalled explanation, in the same columns under a penalty of .£25. I think it will be the public, and not the candidates, who will suffer. .To tell newspapers that thev must not report public meetings at which some statements may be made reflecting on a candidate, would be to do a great in. justice to the people at large.

Mr. WEBSTER(Gwydir).- I am inclined to the opinion that we may rest satisfied with what has already been done with a view to protecting candidates against unfair press criticism. Any newspaper, whether country or.metropolitan, which deliberately makes false statements in regard to any candidate should be held answerable for its wrong-doing. My own opinion, however, is that the more . unreasonable the attack the better it is for the candidate. As a matter of fact, the representatives of the press, who occupy seats in the galleries of this House, publish columns of caricature and misrepresentation regarding honorable members. 'Praise, blame, and misrepresentation are used just as its suits the purposes of the press - with a view to curry favour, it may be, with certain honorable members, or with the public, or the newspaper proprietors. The honorable member for Dalley, who "has addressed us on this proposal, has had a bed of roses throughout his political career: He has ever been the " white-headed boy " of the metropolitan press, and I do not know that, under the circumstances, he may be taken as an authority on the question of what criticism should be regulated, and what criticism should be encouraged. Vigorous criticism is sometimes the lifeblood of a candidate for parliamentary honours. It has been my experience tohave every newspaper in the district, not only criticising me, but refusing to report one word of my utterances. Indeed, the only way in which I could induce one newspaper, which was not quite so bitter as the rest, to publish one address which I delivered, was to purchase 500 copies at 2d. each. However, these antagonistic newspapers over-stepped the mark, and fortunately there was time enough for me to demonstrate to the public the unfair and un-'British conduct to which I was subjected. The result was that I was returned to this House. The same sort of conduct is pursued by the metropolitan press. I have known a metropolitan newspaper to reserve its criticism until the day before the election, when there was no chance for the candidate to reply, and then publish most libellous matter.

Mr Watkins - This proposal would not remedy that sort of thing.

Mr Frazer - What punishment does the honorable member suggest ? ?

Mr WEBSTER - I can only leave the matter to the conscience of the press.

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Will the honorable member name the newspaper, or newspapers to which he refers?

Mr WEBSTER - I do not think that any distinction can be made between newspapers. The honorable and learned member for Parkes is one of the fairest men in the House, and, as he always reads both sides of any question, and stands as an authority of what is the correct thing, I am afraid it would be impertinence on my part to indicate the newspaper. I am afraid the amendment is too cumbersome to attain the object of the mover; out the clause we have previously passed will give us some power over libel.

Mr. FISHER(Wide Bay).- The honorable member for Melbourne has returned to the Chamber, and taken charge of the amendment; and I should now like to say that when I undertook to submit it, in order that it might be placed before the Committee, I intimated that I did not quite agree with the proposal it embodied. However, the fact that such a proposal is made is evidence that the press in some parts of Australia is grossly unfair. No honorable member, especially a fighting member like the representative of Melbourne, would submit such an amendment unless there had been some gross abuse of the privileges of the press. Weighing everything in the scales, however, I am of opinion that if we tried to protect ourselves by legislation, we should lose in the result. My experience is that the very best thing that can happen to a radical candidate is to have the whole of the conservative press against him. In Queensland we have always thought it a glorious privilege to

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