Media Impartiality?

It has been an interesting season for anyone following the Hamilton Spectator’s online and printed editions.

On Saturday December 15, The Spectator reported on The Leveson Report in the UK, and how it relates to a recent survey done by the Ryerson Journalism Research Centre aimed at “ensuring accountability to the public” by our media outlets.

We take for granted that our newspapers will give us unbiased, trustworthy reporting, but how can we be sure?

Full page ad touting the benefits of the controversial flow reversal in Line 9. Click here for full size ad and click here to zoom in on the text.

On Tuesday, December 11 The Spectator ran a 3/4 page colour ad by Enbridge, touting the benefits of reversing the flow in Line 9. Never mind that there are huge outstanding questions about the dangers of this reversal, and that we aren’t sure if we will have a say at all in the process, and that Enbridge only releases the minimum amount of information to us as required by law, and that the majority of citizens who are aware of the issue are against it, and that many people simply don’t understand the issue at all, or its potential ramifications.

Can The Hamilton Spectator accurately cover an issue like this while at the same time accepting a one-sided ad submitted to them by the company trying to convince us to accept their plan – an ad that costs anywhere from $2,500 to $10,000 depending on Enbridge’s negotiating skills?

Setting aside the money, is it fair for The Spectator to be publishing a one-sided opinion about any current news item, even if they accept no money? I can’t decide which would be worse: getting paid to print such propaganda, or doing it for free. Any way I look at it, the decision to publish this ad was completely irresponsible.

Flash forward to Thursday December 13. I attended the City of Hamilton ‘s casino subcommittee meeting at city hall. Despite being held at 9:30 in the morning on a mid-week workday, the meeting was well attended by residents, the majority of which believe that a casino would be a terrible deal for Hamilton, both socially and economically.

The spectator expects their reporters to maintain impartiality. If only the newspaper they work for had the same attitude. Two days later, the spectator was caught running an OLG casino ad by keen-eyed reader Matt Jelly.

This ad is almost certainly a coincidence. But with a casino debate ramping up, and a decision date set for late February (or possibly March), is it possible we’ll see similar large-format ads being placed by the OLG in order to try to sell us on the idea of a casino in Hamilton? We have already seen the OLG target Hamilton by placing their pro-gambling videos before movies in our local cinemas.

Ad on The Hamilton Spectator’s website, Dec 17.

I am fine with advertisements that sell me products and services. But ads that sell me an idea using only one side of an issue are different. They are propaganda. Enbridge placed their ad as a direct shot at a community showing concern for the safety of Line 9. Will the OLG try the same thing as the concerns about a casino continue to mount?

I would like to issue a public challenge to the Hamilton Spectator:

Can we count on you to refuse to print all OLG ads, and any other casino-related advertising until after this important decision is made by council on behalf of the residents of Hamilton?

You owe it to your readers to give them the full unbiased truth in all matters. There is a difference between running ads which sell us products and running ads which are capable of changing the outcome of municipal issues.

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Posted in Opinion