The Jan. 26 Council meeting was mundane in terms of items for this publication to cover – two first readings of bylaws and third reading of the Fees and Charges Bylaw that has taken several months to get through.
And so we were surprised to hear the Town’s CAO give a dissertation on the ethics of journalism and lay public criticism on the ethics of another longstanding publication in this community.
Displeased with that coverage on the recent firing of several Town of Morinville employees, the Town took out a half-page ad in the Free Press to tell their side of the story.
That ad included what seems to be a letter from a resident who had read the print weekly’s coverage of the firings. It also included the Mayor’s response to the same.
News publications, including this one, have a duty to ask tough questions of government. Our first question to the Town was the cost of compensation for the firings. The Town declined to provide that information. We reported that fact as well as their reason for refusing to answer the question.
During the Jan. 26 meeting, this publication and the Gazette received praise for the staff reorganization’s fair coverage. But the Free Press was criticized in a public forum for their content on the same.
While Morinville CAO Stephane Labonne spoke of inaccuracies and misapprehensions, he didn’t point to any specific facts that the paper had gotten wrong.
To be sure, news publications have an obligation to their readers to present the story, omitting personal opinion while not omitting any of the facts a reader needs to determine their opinion on the matter.
If a publication has not been fair, the first recourse line is to address it with the editor or publisher, requesting a correction. If that does not result in satisfaction, the complainant can submit the complaint to an arbitrator like the National News Media Council – IF the publication belongs to such an organization.
Failing that, one could publish an ad, as the Town did, to address their side of the story. We certainly hope that does not become a trend with tax dollars. Ad dollars should be used to leverage a publication’s audience to get important information out to the public, not to set the record straight on journalism.
However, we genuinely hope that public shaming of a tax-paying business is also not a trend the Town’s Administration wishes to continue whenever they do not like the story or how the writer told it.
Taking any publication to task for mistakes or inaccuracies in their coverage is certainly fair, but the leap between public criticism of a newspaper in a meeting and “enemy of the people” is not a giant leap, as the last four years south of the border have shown.