It has been a year since the community backlash against a letter to the editor published in the Prince George Citizen culminated in a complaint filed with the National NewsMedia Council. With limited regulation and no standard approach to ethics in journalism, publications are free to decide the parameters for themselves. With limited options for news outlets covering Prince George, readers do not always have the freedom to look elsewhere for local news. The complaint against the Prince George Citizen was dismissed in March 2020.
According to Sean Holman, journalism professor at Mount Royal University and former resident of Prince George, there is a “shift in journalism ethics in general” but while attitudes may be changing, the industry has largely resisted regulation for fear of jeopardizing freedom of the press.
Newsrooms across the country are being held to account by their readers and staff for failing to meet journalistic standards in all areas of their publications (Source: The Tyee Mediacheck). “We’ve gotten so worried about appearing objective and appearing unbiased that we’ve forgotten that the most important value we’re trying to uphold is the truth”, says Holman about presenting all ideas as having equal value.
“Every single thing we put in the newspaper, and that includes letters to the editor, should go through a journalistic process. We make choices about what appears in our publications and broadcasts, and we make choices about what shouldn’t appear,” says Holman.
While maintaining freedom of speech is a long-standing priority, there are other barriers to a robust news media landscape. Holman points to widespread government secrecy and limited opportunity for civic engagement outside of the ballot box as impediments to the industry as they limit the demand for good, in-depth journalism.
While there are limited options for those concerned with the news media coverage in their area, Holman says that improving the civic health of communities could help encourage better coverage.
“Complain about government secrecy. Elect people who are going to do something about government secrecy. Complain about the lack of power citizens have in Canada and then elect people who are going to do something about that lack of power, and support independent media outlets that are trying to do things better”.
Listen to the interview on CFUR-FM: