Monday, July 22, 2024
Editorials

Guilty of bias

Voter turnout for elections is alarmingly low, sometimes so low that it brings into question whether those elected can really claim to represent the people. Why is that? What is going on that dissuades eligible voters from bothering to show up at the ballot box?
Is it because so many of us view politicians with skepticism? That we assume that people who gain office will find ways to take personal advantage or reward whoever helped them get there? Is it that we have lost faith in the whole system?
This is where journalism comes in.
Our job, among many other things, is to challenge the orthodoxy of what politicians are telling us. This has proven to be especially important when their assertions of what they call fact appear to have no evidence to support them. When shortcuts are taken that effectively subvert processes designed to ensure fairness and prevent corruption. When plans are formulated out of public view and only the resulting decisions are announced. These are some of the red flags that journalists are purpose-built to respond to and that cause us to ask questions.
It does not mean we assume anybody is lying or up to no good. But we do know from experience that without such questions, bad things do happen. For this, history provides an abundance of evidence.
And one of the worst things that happens is the public becomes cynical. We learn to distrust politicians. We don't turn out to vote. And the institution of democracy is imperilled.
Alarmingly, the profession of journalism seems to be imperiled as well, as newspapers throughout the free world close one after the other. Who knows where this will lead. But one thing of which to be sure is that to its dying breath, any newspaper worth its salt will challenge elected officials to be transparent, to provide evidence for their claims, and to be accountable to the public.
It is a well-known tactic among politicians to claim that anyone who raises concerns about their agenda must be biased. Ask Netanyahu about his attack on Gaza and you are immediately anti-semitic. Challenge Legault's anti-English laws and you are immediately against the Quebec nation. It's a tried and true method of shutting down anyone daring to ask questions.
Last week, in a letter published in this newspaper, the Pontiac media were described as being biased against the incinerator project, a claim for which, speaking for this newspaper, there is no evidence.
Our news coverage chronicling events along the evolution of the incinerator project has been even-handed to a fault, reporting on events as they have unfolded before our eyes, meticulously quoting protagonists in the story as accurately as possible.
We have published many letters to the editor on the subject written by both proponents and opponents of the project.
Yes, our own commentary – printed in the space of the newspaper reserved for opinion – has questioned the processes followed in advancing this project.
We’ve asked why all the mayors were on-side and municipalities were being pressed to pass supportive resolutions in the absence of any impartial evidence to inform them of the viability of the project they were being asked to endorse, and before the public was even aware of the project.
Why the budget for the development of a business case was lowered from the originally-envisioned $200,000 to a level that would permit a sole-sourced contract and avoid a competitive bidding process.
Why a consulting firm was hand-picked to produce a business case on the argument that it alone has the needed expertise with incinerators, only to find it has sub-contracted another company to provide that expertise.
If there is a bias, it is to shine light on the activities of public officials and institutions. When the decisions taken are being discussed out of public view, and when the outcomes of those discussions seem to fly in the face of proper process, you will have to excuse your local journalists if we have questions.

Charles Dickson

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