After snubbing home paper, New Zealand leader warms to US press

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

Some saw it as ironic when New Zealand Prime Minister Robert Muldoon said one of the most important engagements of his current trip to Washington would be with the National Press Club.

The press club, he said, offers a major forum to expound his support for a new world monetary system to relieve the plight of poor nations.

Yet as he appears before the press club, the prime minister leaves behind him a simmering row over his actions against a major local newspaper.

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Before leaving, Mr. Muldoon imposed a ban on official government information to the Dominion, the morning paper in the nation's capital, Wellington. He issued the ban because he believes the paper was ''unethical'' in printing a leaked confidential document.

''The Dominion seems to be so keen on publishing material that it is not supposed to have, we should stop giving (it) normal handouts and let (it) get information from that kind of source in the future,'' Muldoon said.

Dominion editor Geoff Baylis responded by saying Muldoon ''appears to believe that the role of the press and the media in a free society is to report only what he wants it to report. I do not believe we exist to be a propaganda sheet.''

The leaked document was from a committee investigating wage-fixing procedures. The committee is to make recommendations for a national wage system to be implemented after the current wage and price freeze ends in February.

The Dominion ignored one insubstantial report the committee released, preferring to publish a story based on the leaked paper. In doing so, Muldoon said, it used comments that were critical of the government and ignored the rest.

Journalists reporting on Parliament have helped the Dominion circumvent the ban by sharing copies of released government documents.

This is not the first time Muldoon has taken on the press.

In the last three years, he has banned journalists - including the Dominion's political editor - from his press conferences, and refused to be interviewed on television by two leading interviewers.

He has accused newspapers of taking a ''pessimistic or negative attitude'' toward the country, and described editors of main journals as being in the center-left of politics.

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