Committee Addresses On-Line News Sites
What is media and how does the City ensure accurate news is getting out to the public was a hot topic in Executive Committee as the new proposed City communications policy was debated.
Drafted by communications manager Craig Hemmingway the strategy is designed to improve communication not just within the City’s internal operations as well as with Moose Jaw residents, and traditional media it also tried to address the growing phenomena of independent on-line news.
In a discussion which defined bloggers who come to Council and report what happens at Council as reporters by the communications manager there were those on Council who disagreed or said independent on-line news lacked accountability for what they may chose to report.
As full disclosure MJ Independent is one of the on-line news sources the committee discussed. It also needs to be stated MJ Independent main columnists are former columnists of the now defunct Moose Jaw Times-Herald.
It also needs to be noted the new City policy will formerly eliminate any news media, including MJ Independent, from contacting City employees directly. All employees would have to direct any media contacts through the communications manager’s office.
About the overall policy Councillor Chris Warren said it is what he has been looking for. He emphasized the 48 hour response time to get back to residents who contact the City as a major step forward.
“Yeah I am excited to see this. This is something from back in August 2017 (it is) almost a carbon copy of what I was hoping to see our City move towards. So I am very excited to see our City do something about this,” Councillor Warren stated.
Despite his excitement for the policy, he said he had some reservations about how the City would treat media they may have some concerns about.
“Reserving the right to stop accomodating the requests if there is false information, bias or a specific slant within stories I was a little bit concerned about that statement,” he said, adding “If it is false information being reported I can certainly agree with that sort of thing.”
“If it is a slant we can’t really control that. I would like to see that line refined a little bit. I don’t want it to appear that we don’t want to commmunicate with the media if they take a negative view of the actions of the City. If they are putting out false and inaccurate information I am 100 percent on board…but when it comes to a bias or a slant I hope we can soften our approach on that.”
Councillor Crystal Froese said she also had concerns on attempting to control any slant or media bias.
“Editors obviously have the right to their own opinion and quite often they write their opinions,” Councillor Froese said.
Mayor Fraser Tolmie spoke about recent discussions at SUMA and the issue of what is “legitimate news and what is blogging.”
“The traditional way with media relations is you would release a piece of information to a news outlet and they would report on it. If they got the facts incorrect you would contact them and you would speak to the editor. Bloggers don’t have editors…how do you hold bloggers accountable to what they are relaying to the community?,” Mayor Tolmie asked.
The Mayor stated news media should have the right to hold a slant in their coverage.
“Yes there can be a slant but if they are facts that are incorrect and you try to correct those facts that are incorrect and there is a lack of willingness to do that there are issues. There has to be some form of accountability that is built into our process to allow for that.”
“There has to be some form of accountability that is built into our process”
Mayor Fraser Tolmie
The Mayor went on to state there were two traditional media outlets in the City - Discover Moose Jaw and the Moose Jaw Express - who pay taxes and they were based upon proper hiring practices with editors.
Hemmingway stated in his job he had spoken to both the “traditional” and on-line media about inaccuracies in their stories.
“If it was something happening on a consistent basis it would certainly raise more flags than a one off and I would say I have had ocassion to speak to all media here about slants or perceived slants and getting things correct.”
Mayor Tolmie then asked the question - “So then the question goes down is a blogger a reporter?”
Hemmingway stated online news outlets including bloggers were reporters.
“I would say if you are reporting on what is going on I would have to say then you are a reporter.”
Education is not always a key to who qualified as a reporter, Hemmingway said.
“Going back to my previous workplace (CHAB) you did not have to have any education. If you had your high school education you could be a reporter. How do you compare that with again using one of our sites someone who has gone to school for that who is operating an independent site?”
Hemmingway stated media had to be dealt with on a case to case basis.
“If anybody is providing dishonest coverage, consistently slanted and biased and unfair at that point we would have an obligation to address that in some way.”
Councillor Dawn Luhning said she favoured having a policy in place regarding media inaccuracy and slant.
“I do believe we as a City Council and Administration do have the right to have these policies that kind of put a framework around making sure that our story, both sides gets out to the public,” Councillor Luhning stated.
“I do believe there is a difference as there is some accountability back to an organization like a television company or a radio company or a newspaper organization that does have editors or people that can help us work through a situation.”
Councillor Froese said she agreed with Mayor Tolmie media was changing and it should not be the job of the City “to define what is legitimate or not.”
“As Mr Hemmingway has said is Discover Moose Jaw does not require a journalist degree to write the news and their website…and then we have other blogger news sites that have journalistic degrees so trying to identify on this list is kind of redundant.”
“I don’t think we can try to tell people whether they are legitimate or not legitimate. Things are moving too quickly in this area,” Councillor Froese said going on to add she had gone to Discover Moose Jaw and the now defunct Moose Jaw Times Herald with accuracy issues in the past.
Mayor Tolmie used the two examples of Discover Moose Jaw and the Times Herald as examples of news outlets you could go to if you had concerns and they are “governed by the Canadian Broadcasting Standards” while bloggers aren’t.
It needs to be noted that no on-line news outlet in Canada is governed by any independent body. This would include the Moose Jaw Express (MooseJawToday.com) and DiscoverMooseJaw.com as the federal government through the CRTC has decided not to regulate the Internet. Newspapers have NO regulatory body.
“When you go to a blogger and say you have misrepresented the facts they don’t have to answer back. They don’t have to reply. They don’t have to do anything.”
Hemmingway stated he had done a survey of other cities and in their cases bloggers were usually on the fringe but “Moose Jaw had a unique situation.”
“They are taken far more seriously in this community then they might be in a larger community.”
Councillor Luhning reiterated her point City Council had the right to get their side of the story out properly as she said there were many industries who were regulated based upon the provision of factual information.
“When you are regulated and licensed to do a job there are some rules that have to be followed and that isn’t the world we live in now.”
An amendment to remove independent websites from the policy was adopted in a 5 - 2 vote with Councillors Swanson and Froese opposed.
An amendment to remove the mention of slants and controls was approved 6 - 1 with Councillor Luhning opposed.
The overall communication policy framework was approved in a 6 - 1 vote with Councillor Swanson opposed. The policy is still in development.