Covering the fringe

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Half-a-dozen readers complained about our Feb. 3 edition – in particular, a story about two local truckers who attended the Freedom Convoy in Ottawa, and a small group of protestors rallying against a mask mandate at a local elementary school.
“While I am a firm believer in freedom of speech and the freedom of the press, two articles this week went too far,” one wrote.
She wanted to know how in good conscious we could give a platform to the man, whose co-truckers, she said, were carrying Nazi and Confederate flags?
As for the school, she conjectured some of the protesters were vehement anti-vaxxers without science-based information. She wanted to know if we’d interviewed them and asked the right questions.
Another wrote, “how disappointing to see a whole-page spread for an anti-vaccine protester and also an article with a picture of the four anti-mask people protesting at one of our local schools. It seems you are having trouble coming up with some real news stories.”
We appreciate feedback and it gives us pause to ask the same questions of ourselves.
At The Highlander, we believe it is important to present as many sides to a story as we can, and hopefully enough information so that the reader can make up his or her own mind about anything.
In doing so, we also feel it holds up a mirror to our community, to reflect what is going on. We know there is a divide over COVID-19 and its handling. The majority back public health measures. A fringe does not. Does that mean we simply ignore the fringe? Pretend it’s not going on?
We don’t think it’s an option. It would be like not covering a People’s Party of Canada local candidate because the majority has discounted this candidate’s views. Censoring that person, or the Freedom Convoy-types in our community only opens the door to us being accused of suppressing the news, being part of the conspiracy, fuelling more fire for their social media platforms. We feel it is best to have it out in the open, rather than tiptoe around it.
Another reader told us it was “refreshing” to see another side presented. Another applauded the truckers for taking part in the Ottawa protests. Yet another said while it was unfortunate we had to cover these things, at least we’d done it well.
Is it uncomfortable covering so-called fringe groups? It sure is. I attended the local Freedom Convoy gathering outside Kawartha Dairy Saturday morning because, like it or not, it was news. There was a large crowd gathered. I was the only one wearing a mask. Did I agree with them? No. Was I doing my job? Yes.
And if you read these stories, for example the protestors outside the elementary school last week, you’ll note we quoted them and then followed each quote with contradictory information from reputable sources. In our opinion, that is good journalism. We are not simply offering a platform to the fringe, but challenging their beliefs. Could we do a better job. Of course.
And, let’s not forget, nearly every week we provide a platform to Dr. Nell Thomas via her COVID corner.
We know how divisive this issue has become. It has separated some of us from family, friends, acquaintances and co-workers. We don’t agree. We don’t have to. But we have to respect our rights to have different opinions. And it wouldn’t be prudent for local media to allow their personal biases to stop them from covering viewpoints that they don’t necessarily agree with.