This item was first published in January 2011 and is brought forward again because its subject has particular importance in the next eleven months.
A regular reader’s comment stirred my interest. He directed me to a community newspaper whinge by Keith Baldrey, the Global TV reporter I sometimes refer to as a BC Liberal spokesman.
First, examine the comments by Spartikus HERE then consider this recap of Baldrey’s lament for Craig James, a Liberal favourite who was then head of Elections BC and is now the Clerk of the Legislature:
A lot is being said and written about the decline of civility in our political culture these days. It’s time we confront this disturbing problem.
…one doesn’t have to dig very deep in our own political culture to find rhetoric that is beyond “overheated” and inflammatory attacks that go well beyond what is acceptable in a fair and just society.
…the fact he [Craig James] needed security was actually reported some weeks ago by the Globe and Mail… More than 150 comments were posted. Almost none of them expressed any kind of sympathy at all for James…
This brings us to a key part of the growing problem: the anonymity of the Internet, which allows anyone the chance to smear another without having to be held accountable for his or her actions. If I (or any other reporter or editor at this newspaper) were to libel someone, the consequences would be harsh. The aggrieved party would sue, and there’s a good chance the offending writer would pay a significant financial penalty.
But on websites and blogs, people are allowed to post the most outrageous, libelous, threatening and inaccurate comments and because they do so under the cowardly cloak of anonymity (or pseudonyms) they face no consequences.
Yet, their comments hang in the air and get traded back and forth… no matter how much evidence shows those views to be wrong or inaccurate or based on hate or prejudice.
Newspapers and other media outlets should return to the days of the rigid letters-to-the-editor policies that took steps to ensure all published comments were accurately signed.
…don’t think for a moment the extremists who have poisoned political debate in the U.S. don’t also exist here. They can be found in Canada, on the left and right, and they are mostly on the Internet. If you don’t believe me, just ask Craig James.”
Notice again that Baldrey says,
. . . on websites and blogs, people are allowed to post the most outrageous, libelous, threatening and inaccurate comments and because they do so under the cowardly cloak of anonymity (or pseudonyms) they face no consequences.
Keith Baldrey has been a professional journalist for the better part of 30 years. He is aware that if people make death threats in any fashion to Craig James, including by email, they will be investigated by police and charged. Punishment would be severe. Baldrey’s universal statement about blogs and websites is wrong, pure and simple. Criticism and impolite comments are not libel. Also, it is inconceivable that he so misunderstands the law that he would honestly make untrue assertions regarding libel. I think his statements are considered and purposeful but the intention is not what he claims.
There is no cloak of anonymity provided by the Internet to a blogger or any online journalist. The people responsible for offending sites, even those using pseudonyms, can be determined through identification of Internet Protocol (IP) addresses and a bit of gumshoeing. Most bloggers make it easy by using real names, honest email addresses and even pictures. Does anyone imagine that I am not subject to libel laws at In-Sights? Only ignorant fools.
Baldrey knows that I can be sued for damages and/or specific performance if I publish libelous content. I explain this occasionally to would-be contributors whose comments I block because of inappropriate content. Additionally, I recognize also a moral responsibility to not assert as true information that I know to be untrue. Regular readers know that I might make ironic assertions but that should be obvious to anyone exercising thought.
In social media, a wayward fringe will always been with us but who gives them credibility? Blog readers are often sophisticated news junkies who want commentary based on fact, not on fantasy.
Mr. Baldrey wants people unfamiliar with online journalism to imagine the Internet largely provides “outrageous, libelous, threatening and inaccurate” commentary. One reason he might want to sell that false image is that he worries about mainstream media losing readers to the online world. Baldrey also may not like to be criticized and held accountable for his expositions.
Keith, if you aim to be respected, don’t be an extension of vested interests, treat all sides with doubt and wariness and don’t only advance interests of the powerful. Be prepared to make them uncomfortable, if deserved. Be transparent about potential conflicts involving you or colleagues, be knowledgeable and impartial. If your employer won’t allow this, go public, force change. Your employer once had a reputation for outstanding work, it does no longer.
Global BC, for whom Baldrey is the chief political reporter, was caught demonstrating partisan bias during the 2009 election campaign. They’ve been accused of prejudice repeatedly but the responses have usually been denials. This important case could not be denied. It was confirmed by court documents that reveal Global news reporter Catherine Urquhart worked with a BC Liberal’s senior advisors to promote the politician’s public profile. This is from the a media report of the correspondence between Kash Heed’s backroom operator Barinder Sall and the Global reporter:
“I can honestly say Kash would not be SG [solicitor-general] today if it hadn’t been for some key people behind the scenes,” Sall wrote to Urquhart on June 10, 2009.
“There were only truly 3 people that played a major role: Me, Peter Dhillon and yourself and Kash knows this,” he added.
“Peter was the money guy, I’m the brown tanned James Bond strategy girl-chasing guy and you were like the communications director . . . your stories, coverage and timing gave Kash a lot of profile and built him a following from day 1 at West Van and then leading into the election.”
In response, Urquhart wrote: “Hey…that’s really sweet of you…”
However, Urquhart did not prepare and broadcast Liberal friendly material by herself. It passed by all the others working in the Global studio whether editors, reporters, technicians or management. Approval was explicit and implicit. That it was aired demonstrates Global was taking care of business as usual, promoting BC Liberals.
I suggest that trust is a major issue for Global TV. Keith Baldrey, as chief political reporter, should have known about the campaign to raise Kash Heed’s status. Should we have confidence in any statement by Baldrey or Global or assume they generally report that which pleases their favorites?
A further test of Global TV came from their treatment of the issue. The company response was not admirable. Only Catherine Urquhart was disciplined and that involved a short suspension. She is still employed at Global News.
For additional information on this subject and a Twitter exchange I had with Keith Baldrey, read the 2014 article: