By Stephen Vance, Editor
In a column published last week, John Honderich, Chair of the Board for Torstar, the parent company of the Toronto Star outlined an ongoing battle between Canada’s largest city newspaper and Toronto Mayor Rob Ford.
Ford’s issue with the Star stems from an article that was published during last year’s municipal election campaign in which Ford’s aggressive high school coaching style was highlighted.
Ford threatened to sue the Star, but he didn’t follow through with a lawsuit. What he has done though, is to attempt to cut the Star out of the loop, to make every attempt to ensure that important information is issued to all media outlets except The Toronto Star.
Ford has proclaimed that the practice will continue until the Star publishes an apology. The Star on the other hand says that they stand by their story, so no such apology is forthcoming.
“Thus we have the chief magistrate of the city, his legal remedy expired, using the tool of blackout to prevent the city’s largest newspaper from receiving notification of public events, briefings or announcements from his office,” wrote Honderich, “In my view, this tactic is not only high-handed and inappropriate, but also raises a serious issue of abuse of power.”
Honderich points out that Ford himself is under no obligation to personally talk to the Star, or any other media outlet for that matter, but the practice of excluding one media outlet from the issuing of press releases and other notifications from the office of the mayor affects that media outlet’s ability to properly report on municipal council, which in turn hurts readers of the Toronto Star.
We must not forget that readers of the Toronto Star are also voters who have a right to be informed of what their government is doing. Their choice of newspaper should not determine the amount or quality of information they are being given.
The issue is an important one, and the Star has responded by vowing to file an official complaint with Toronto’s Integrity Commissioner.
I say good for the Star.
Politicians and municipal staffers that cozy up to some media outlets while attempting to cut other media outlets out of the loop may think they are controlling the message, but in reality they are simply doing a disservice to their community.
Sometimes government administrations forget that the public and the media have a right to question, and yes, even a right to be critical.
A truly transparent administration is not afraid of criticism. In fact, if they are smart, and they truly believe in what they are doing, they welcome questions and criticism as that can actually help them – sometimes they might even learn that there is another way of looking at or dealing with issues, or they have the opportunity to say “This is why we feel this article or publication is wrong.”
Those administrations that attempt to throw up barriers to the public or the media only hurt themselves – especially if they favour some media over others. To hide from media outlets that don’t fit your particular philosophy, or who you feel are too critical is a cowardly act, and it sends a message that you aren’t willing to defend your positions.
Differences of opinion are healthy and more often than not initiate respectful debate – that is unless one of the parties involved doesn’t feel respected. It is then that the gloves come off, because as we all know, bare knuckles hurt a lot more.
One of the top brass at the Meaford municipal office said to me not that long ago “It works in my favour to have a good relationship with the media, after all, you guys always have the final word.”
That approach makes a lot of sense, and it builds good will and mutual respect. And let’s face it, we humans (and yes, those of us in the media are actually human) tend to be more forgiving with those that we have good relationships with – even when we disagree.
Let’s be frank. By trying to cut the Star out of the loop, Rob Ford is really telling readers of the Star that they don’t matter very much. They don’t count. The people who do matter read the Sun, or the Globe, or other publications.
And what happens when people feel that their governments have cast them aside, or don’t respect them?
You already know the answer to that.