|Press freedom to universally conform
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|Author:||FrankGSterleJr [ Thu Nov 12, 2015 7:00 pm ]|
|Post subject:||Press freedom to universally conform|
Postmedia let down readers by dictating election endorsements: Honderich
Postmedia CEO Paul Godfrey did the newspaper industry a disservice by dictating election endorsements, writes Torstar Chair John Honderich.
Never before in a federal election, in my memory, have newspaper endorsements become so controversial.
Topping the list unquestionably was Postmedia CEO Paul Godfrey’s dramatic order to all 16 major Postmedia papers across Canada to support Stephen Harper.
Each paper was allowed to write its own editorial, but the conclusion was preordained.
“Since God made babies, I think (endorsement editorials) were always made that way,” longtime Conservative Godfrey explained later, reacting to the uproar. “If anyone thinks otherwise, I think they were dreaming in Technicolor.”
Really, Mr. Godfrey?
You might want to examine the policies of other newspaper chains that tell an entirely different bedtime story of the so-called “proprietor’s prerogative.”
No one can dispute the tradition of an individual publisher or owner calling the election shots for their local paper. Godfrey did that regularly when he was publisher of the Toronto Sun.
But to dictate the choice across an entire chain – and nation. That is an entirely different tale.
Consider the previous owners of Postmedia papers, the venerable Southam family.
It went to great lengths to emphasize individual publishers in each city were responsible for all editorial content, including election endorsements. “It was even in my letter of engagement,” remembers veteran Southam publisher Clark Davey. “It said what appeared in the (Vancouver) Sun rested on my conscience.”
The reason, of course, was self-evident. What was important or relevant to readers in Vancouver might not be so in Montreal, Ottawa or Windsor.
Owning a newspaper, in my view, is a privilege not a right. Nor is it the same as owning a pizzeria or car wash. Newspapers are an essential informing part of the democratic process and their first responsibility must be to the local readers they serve.
The old Thomson chain in Canada, owned by the richest family in the land, had a similar practice of non-interference in local editorial issues.
South of the border a similar tradition has existed for decades. In the last presidential election, America was a patchwork quilt of competing newspaper endorsements.
The huge Gannett chain states that “diversity is strength. By encouraging and expressing a mix of opinions, backgrounds, stories and ideas, Gannett improves results.”
An executive for the large Knight-Ridder chain put it more pithily. “We bought them (newspapers). But we don’t own them.”
In the interests of transparency, it must also be declared that editorial independence has always been the official policy of the Torstar newspaper group.
While the proprietors and publisher of the Toronto Star are involved in the Star’s election endorsements, the Hamilton Spectator, Waterloo Region Record and all 125 of Torstar’s community papers can decide for themselves.
So in the 2011 federal election, the Star supported Jack Layton’s NDP, while virtually all other Torstar papers endorsed Stephen Harper. In 2015, all the dailies came out for the Liberals under Justin Trudeau.
These aren’t dreams. They are black and white realities reflecting a long-held common tradition among North America’s major newspaper groups.
Mr. Godfrey, soon to be installed in the Canadian News Hall of Fame for his contribution to Canadian journalism, clearly has a different perspective.
Yet, the firestorm of criticism on social media, the rumours of discontent in Postmedia newsrooms and even a damning story in Britain’s Guardian newspaper all reflect a pervasive discontent.
Even more worrisome is the negative impact this affair is having on the newspaper industry in general. At a time when the relevance and impact of newspapers are under attack, this doesn’t help.
Ultimately, though, it is readers who matter most. And surely those in Postmedia communities deserved far, far better.
John Honderich is chair of the board of Torstar Corp. He is a former publisher and editor of the Toronto Star.
(November 9, 2015, Torstar)
Never before has such uniform, 100 percent control occurred in regards to an across-the-board editorial endorsement of a specific political party and its leader, according to the above essay’s author. But then again, never before have such desperate times required such desperate measures: After all, there were both Conservative-government-allocated corporate welfare cheques as well as ridiculously low corporate tax rates anticipated from Big News-media ownership, and opinion polls were revealing that politically things weren't going their way. Well, the blatant newspaper-chain corruption has been exposed yet again, though this time to an unprecedentedly enormous and embarrassing degree. And it's about bloody time!
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