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Fake news claims a real attack on democracy

Posted on August 15, 2018 by Taber Times

There does not seem to be a week that goes by that United States president Donald Trump is not using his slings and arrows aimed at the North American press in shouting atop his soap box of ‘fake news.’

And it seems like for media outlets south of the border, they have had enough.

The Boston Globe has made a request that newspapers across North America run an editorial this week penned by Judy Patrick, the New York Press Association’s vice president of editorial development with the option to tweak it for local readership.

So the following is the editorial intertwined with paragraphs tying in the message locally:

We’ve been complacent.

We thought everybody knew how important a free press was to our world and that all this talk about us being the enemy of the people would be dismissed for the silliness that it is.

But the reckless attacks have continued, instigated and encouraged by the leader of the most powerful nation in the world, Donald Trump.

When the leader of the free world works to erode the public’s trust in the media, the potential for damage is enormous, both here and abroad. America once set an example of free and open government for the world to follow. Now those who seek to suppress the free flow of information are doing so with impunity.

The ‘fake news’ mantra has certainly spilled its way into Canada and into small-town Taber in years past. At this past October’s municipal election debate, more than one would-be councillor used the term in referring to the Taber Times’ local coverage which has had plenty of controversy swirling around it in recent years involving such items as the Community Standards Bylaw, the burning of the Pride Flag, objections to topics discussed in-camera (behind closed doors), discussion on a new fire hall, and comments by high-ranking officials the Times published that drew provincial, national or even international scorn.

“Don’t believe everything you read in the newspaper” and prepared statements on the role of media at the start of a council meeting have been uttered in chambers in years past. Its message of how media scrutiny handicaps the making of progressive decisions and that the newspaper should understand its role with positive and up-building stories are comments often uttered by other countries with a laundry-list of human rights violations, or dictatorships. Among the years of the more veteran editorial staff, requests have been made to have stories buried or turfed all together.

The ironic thing is, The Times writes uplifting stories all the time, be it any number of worthy organizations making a difference, numerous volunteer organizations and initiatives, or individuals making their community a better place to live through service or sport. Often these community-building events are covered by The Times far past when our regular work day is supposed to end. It often seems that when council decisions have greater scrutiny applied to them, either through transparency demands or logic in the decision-making process, is when the mantra ‘fake news’ is bantered about in present and years past, with accusations the press is trying to knock the community down.

The time has come for us as the media to stand up to the bullying. The role journalism plays in our free society is too crucial to allow this degradation to continue. We aren’t the enemy of the people. We are the people. We aren’t fake news. We are your news and we struggle night and day to get the facts right.

On bitter cold January nights, we’re the people’s eyes and ears at town, village and school board meetings. We tell the stories of our communities, from the fun of a county fair to the despair a family faces when a loved one is killed.

We are always by your side. We shop the same stores, attend the same arts and sports events and hike the same trails. We struggle with daycare and worry about paying for retirement.

In our work as journalists, our first loyalty is to you the reader. Our work is guided by a set of principles that demand objectivity, independence, open-mindedness and the pursuit of the truth. We make mistakes, we know. There’s nothing we hate more than errors, but we acknowledge them, correct them and learn from them. Show me a workplace anywhere free of errors and I will show you a piece of fiction. It is a matter of owning up to those mistakes to keep the trust of the public.

Our work is a labour of love because we love our town, our province and our country, and believe we are playing a vital role in our democracy. Self-governance demands that our citizens need to be well informed and that’s what we’re here to do. We go beyond the government issued press release or briefing and ask tough questions. We hold people in power accountable for their actions. Some think we’re rude to question and challenge. We know it’s our obligation.

People have been criticizing the press for generations. We are not perfect. But we’re striving every day to be a better version of ourselves than we were the day before. That’s why we welcome criticism. But unwarranted attacks that undermine your trust in us cannot stand. The problem has become so serious that newspapers across the nation are speaking out against these attacks in one voice today on their editorial pages.

As women’s rights pioneer and investigative journalist Ida B. Wells wrote in 1892: “The people must know before they can act and there is no educator to compare with the press.”

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