Political parties aren't the only institutions that needed a dose of healthy skepticism

Political parties aren't the only institutions that needed a dose of healthy skepticism

COLUMN: Consumers of news must be discerning

Political parties aren't the only institutions that needed a dose of healthy skepticism, writes Peace Arch News editor Lance Peverley.

It was an election campaign of misinformation, misinterpretation and misplaced priorities.

I write, of course, not of the federal candidates and their respective parties, but of allegations against the news media, while the aforementioned candidates completed their final lap in the longest election campaign in memory.

This stance might seem hypocritical, given that I edit the newspaper you’re now reading, but I’ve long been an advocate for more thoughtful media coverage of all things political.

Unlike many countries – in which newspapers, TV broadcasters and radio stations admit political sympathies for all to judge – Canadian media, for the most part, present themselves as objective bystanders, giving the appearance of unbiased reporting.

Have you read lately about any “wildly popular” politicians, or noticed some lead items are repeated day in, day out? Do the opinions expressed seem to be of a common voice?

You just might want to find alternate sources to complement your news intake.

Daily columnists with axes to grind? Broadcast personalities who promote specific causes? We must stay in high alert to remain adequately informed.

Odds are, if you’re hearing only one side, you’re being manipulated the same way as your neighbour who pays attention only to political advertising.

I urge all readers, watchers and listeners to not only consider whether there’s an ulterior motive in the news being consumed, but to question the source every time.

My dissatisfaction with the media isn’t caused solely by differences in ethics. Given the evolution of the news industry in recent years, there are fewer resources and people to research, write and present. Time limitations, multiple duties, financial cutbacks… all add up to inferior news products.

And shoddy reporting, I feel, can result from an imperfect process.

One of my pet peeves with political reporting – not just federally but at all levels – is the advantage incumbents have over challengers, regardless of political stripe. In most cases, this is not the result of a partisan bias, but one of familiarity. Working relationships form, and it can be more convenient – more human – for reporters to take a tone that gives incumbents the edge.

You’ll notice this style of lazy reporting if you look for the same sources being referenced over and over, or if adjectives like “besieged”, “inexperienced” or the aforementioned “popular” describing a political figure turn up in news copy in all but the most exceptional circumstances.

We in the media must fight that urge, just as we must fight any lack of objectivity inherent in simply being human.

While the Internet has provided solace in recent years – giving more opportunities for diverse voices to be heard – it’s also added complications, as some websites that have intrinsic biases promote themselves as media sources, and readers promote their stories online in the same click of a mouse as traditional news sources governed by laws and ethics.

Yes, I can already imagine the response from critics of this paper during my tenure for the better part of this past decade. And I know there are some who feel I have given too much weight to certain issues and personalities, while ignoring others.

To that, all I can suggest is that our mantra of accuracy and fairness is often discussed behind the scenes here, and we’re always on the lookout for news that affects our community.

As well, I do my level best to provide a platform for reasonable views – perhaps even the odd unreasonable one, too – especially on our letters page, as regular readers can attest.

If you want to disagree, my email address is editor@peacearchnews.com (or a brief voicemail works in a pinch, 604-542-7402).

Lance Peverley is the editor of Peace Arch News.