How to influence, inform and interpret

There are a lot of people on campus who don’t seem to understand the rights and responsibilities of media.

In recent letters, readers accused the Gauntlet of being untrue to journalistic integrity by giving students information on which to base their votes. One letter accused the paper of being similar to an "Internet billboard" because we do more than "relay information." The main objection is that endorsing the candidates we felt were most qualified "undermined the democratic process." Unfortunately, research and regular reading of newspapers show that media outlets around the world–including such papers as the Calgary Herald and the Globe and Mail–openly endorse political parties, candidates and referendum questions on a regular basis.

Jennifer Pelly, Chief Returning Officer of the Graduate Students’ Association election, asked the Gauntlet not to publish any information about a referendum question asking grad students if the GSA should join the Canadian Federation of Students, or about the complaints against GSA President Viola Cassis, because of the "detrimental effect any article on the subject would have on student voters…." Huh?

The role of a student paper is to inform and influence students on the issues. Our intent isn’t to change the world, but to make sure that everyone has the ability to make an informed decision. And this isn’t entirely confined to regurgitating information, although this is the singular role of the news section. However, it’s not the role of the entire paper.

Anything printed under the opinion banner, or anywhere other than the news section, is likely opinion. These writers offer their interpretations of people, their actions, their art and the situations that surround them. They are intended to be persuasive, but not intended to make anyone think or believe anything they don’t want to.

When the Gauntlet printed the SU candidate endorsements, it was all opinion. We wanted to show people what we thought of the candidates after asking 20 minutes of questions. But, contrary to popular belief, we didn’t want to guide anyone’s voting. And the endorsements certainly weren’t in the news section, so we hardly hoped anyone would think they were some sort of bizarre presentation of fact. We offered our impressions of the candidates and their platforms. Some interpretations, I admit, were harsh. But none were unfounded. And I admit informing people of the Gauntlet’s opinion has an effect. We took in the piles of information thrown out to the general public, condensed and filtered it, and gave that revised information to readers.

Futhermore, every candidate volunteered to be interviewed and, by doing so, gave us permission to judge them. And, by judging them, we hopefully save students the risk of finding out after the fact that some candidates weren’t very good.

The Gauntlet didn’t "viciously attack" candidates. We were very blunt, for the sake of brevity, with some of the candidates’ reviews. Unfortunately, some of the candidates were sincerely bad.

And, finally, no one has a right to ask media sources not to release information. This attacks the very foundation of journalistic integrity: freedom of the press. The purpose of media is to disseminate information intended to help readers make informed decisions. To deny people the information until a contentious issue passes, as is the case with the GSA referendum, defeats the purpose of having a newspaper in the first place.

What we’re asking for here is trust. We are the sole student-focused media source on campus, and we take that responsibility seriously. Our intent has never been to guide elections or change people’s minds. We work on the assumption that everyone deserves a fair chance to make an educated decision, and take that role to heart.

Neal Ozano can be reached at ndozano@ucalgary.ca.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.