June 15th, 2024

Letter: Medicine Hat News should be welcoming byelection-based letters to the editor

By Letter to the Editor on November 3, 2022.

Dear editor,

A typical forum used by individuals to express their views has been taken away in the Brooks-Medicine Hat byelection. The Medicine Hat News suddenly decided not to print any byelection-related letters because “it would be impossible to reflect a balanced version of overall submissions, and the News doesn’t want to give the impression of favouritism to one party over another” (Oct. 27 edition – 12 days before Nov. 8 election).

There are two concerns with this statement. First, the News states “it doesn’t want to give the impression of favouritism”, but in fact the News is not showing favouritism because the News is basically the messenger and simply printing the letters they receive. If they receive 10 negative letters and one positive letter for a candidate it is the writers that are showing favouritism not the News. (Editor’s note: We know we don’t show favouritism, the decision was made to prevent the impression of favouritism.)

Secondly it appears that the News has either received or are anticipating receiving a disproportionate number of letters unfavourable to a specific candidate as they state “it would be impossible to reflect a balanced version of overall submissions.” I would argue that by not printing letters they are actually showing favouritism by eliminating bad publicity for one specific candidate. If there was an imbalance the News could encourage additional letter writers to present opposing views. Note – From my perspective there is no reason to believe that the News is trying to protect any candidate as they clearly have no favourite.

After discussion with a member of the News a couple of additional concerns were raised.

First, the News is concerned about fact checking all details in the letters. My thought is that the News should not be not be responsible for 100% factual accuracy of the letters they receive. Readers should fact check to their own satisfaction. However, the News clearly has the right and obligation to reject letters they know are factually incorrect or have dubious facts not supported by reliable sources.

Second is a concern that presenting too many opinions on one side of an issue might influence voters. Basically, this would silence the voices of the writers to prevent impressionable voters from being swayed by quantity rather than content, although I would hope most people are not that simplistic. Would an imbalance in lawn signs or advertising do the same?

Based on my limited research, stopping letters 12 days before the election day is unusual but there are newspapers that take similar action around election time, often pre-planned. In this byelection it appears that an unexpected and unforeseeable situation arose putting the News in a difficult situation and they made their decision in the best public interest. However, it is a decision that can still be evaluated.

Going forward I would suggest the News give advance notice of when they will stop publishing letters (perhaps six days prior to election day?) and in the following days only print letters that verifiably correct misinformation in any previous letters. The News could also reduce the maximum word count to review and print more letters (regardless of balance), recommend writers reference sources for facts, and provide a civility guideline.

Letters to the editor are one of the best ways for viewpoints to be expressed. There is typically no anonymity, a broad audience can be reached and reasonable oversight by the editor provides a level of legitimacy and civility while still allowing for some derision.

Denis Hoffman

Medicine Hat

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