Balance means giving both sides - Keith Roulston editorial
There was a time when I thought the world would be a better place if everyone had the ability to have a voice in the media. Okay, I was wrong.
Today’s online blogs, newsletters and access to self-generated opinion sites means virtually anyone has an ability to speak to, sometimes, thousands of others.
These thoughts arrive after reports that court documents revealed to media that Nathaniel Veltman, the 20-year-old man accused of killing four members of a Muslim family in London on June 6, 2021, had what appeared to be “hate related material” on a device and may have consumed white supremacist content on the dark web.
Also in the news last week, Globe and Mail columnist Doug Saunders revealed that lawsuits by Alberta-based Rebel Media against him and other media outlets had been thrown out by a judge, and Rebel Media was required to pay $250,000 toward the legal costs of those companies that had been prevented from attempting to do their job. The judge agreed with the defendants that the suits were simply attempts to silence the media.
Saunders had evidence that linked Rebel Media to the killer of 51 women and men in mosques in New Zealand in 2019. The accused killer had, for eight months, read right-wing literature on the internet by Martin Sellner, an Austrian extreme-right figure who popularized a racial conspiracy theory known as “the Great Replacement”, which holds that people in Western countries from racial or religious minorities are not simply fellow citizens, but the subjects of a plot to “replace” white and Christian people.
Rebel Media wanted to prevent publicity of the fact that on June 22, 2016, it published a post headlined, “Leader of Generation Identity Austria: We want to stop what we call the Great Replacement”, devoted to a video interview between a Rebel staffer and Sellner. The post remained visible until at least March of 2019, and carried the tagline, “Martin Sellner of the Austrian chapter of Generation Identity joined me to talk about Europe’s disastrous immigration policies, and why more people like him are fighting back”. Rebel Media’s main Twitter account promoted it with the line, “We want to stop the Great Replacement”, and a photo of Sellner with one of Rebel Media’s staff.
The New Zealand killer made a donation of $106.68 from his personal bank account to Rebel News Network Ltd. of Canada, using PayPal. He also made donations to other, similarly right-wing outlets.
Still, in the name of free speech, Rebel Media continues to spread its poison. So do Tucker Carlson and other right-wingnuts on Fox News opinion programs and other right-wing outlets that even voiced support for Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, whose actions in attacking Ukraine are killing and displacing millions. If the easily attainable media isn’t enough, there are dark web sites that promote even murkier ideas.
It’s a different world than the media existence of 50 years ago when I was an idealistic graduate of the Ryerson school of journalism. Because we had near-exclusive access to what people could read or hear in the media, we were told we had to seek out both sides of the issue. It wasn’t a perfect situation, of course, because our own opinions varied from Conservative through Liberal and NDP to one guy who was a Marxist. Yet it was drummed into our brains for three years that we had a responsibility to all sides because we had the privilege of controlling peoples’ access to information – although even then, of course, we had letters to the editor for people to correct us or give alternate facts.
But with so many versions of the “truth” these days, it’s possible for people to hear only voices with which they want to agree. During the long blockade of downtown Ottawa, I heard reporters do what I’d been taught: try to give both sides, including those of anti-vaxxers who took over the streets. In fact, if there were missing voices, it was of those whose businesses were closed because of the blockade. And yet the reporters were often abused because they were giving a side of the issue that the protesters rejected.
Recently, I saw an interview with Brian Karem, a reporter for Salon.com who left a comfortable studio in the U.S. to report directly from Ukraine. “There are facts out there that people need to hear,” he said in an interview.
That’s what reporters do. They go out and face the danger to actually see the facts happening, they don’t sit in a comfortable studio like Tucker Carlson and spout their opinions as if they were observers of fact.
They also realize that free speech brings power, and power brings a responsibility to make sure people are given as many sides as possible.