Monday, June 4, 2012

AWNA Adds to Discourse on Alberta Media's Election Coverage

Below is a letter from Mr. Murray Elliott, President of the Alberta Weekly Newspaper Association (AWNA), in response to the FDA Media Study on the Alberta Election. In addition, there is a letter from Mr. Stephen Garvey, Executive Director of the FDA, in response to Mr. Elliott's letter. The FDA thanks the AWNA for sharing their feedback on the FDA Media Study.

June 1, 2012

Dear Mr. Garvey:

As president of the Alberta Weekly Newspapers Association (AWNA), I am responding on the association’s behalf, to your recent media advisory regarding political coverage during the recent Alberta provincial election. Notably, your assessment of fair and democratic processes did not include a large part of the Alberta electorate served by weekly newspapers. Readership studies quantify our importance. Electoral maps confirm our influence.

We reflect the communities we serve. My market, like many in Alberta, remains a conservative stronghold. Despite our best efforts--numerous phone calls and emails to candidates and party headquarters, it was challenging to contact and include the opinions of parties outside the two conservative contenders. Without background, our collective coverage may seem lopsided as well. To suggest it contributed to the outcome is misleading.

To recommend government-imposed media conduct, and spending limits seems counter to a free press, free enterprise and democracy. Should editors be muzzled for taking a political stance or endorsing a candidate? Does a politically biased editorial not hold the same weight as a well-funded advertising campaign?

Premier William Aberhart and his Social Credit party sought government intervention to counter perceived bias from all-too-powerful media. The Accurate News and Information Act was a statute passed by the Alberta Legislature in 1937. It would have required papers to reveal all sources, provide the government with equal space and placement to counter any criticism, and even the names and addresses of reporters if requested. Aberhart believed power was in the hands of too few.

The AWNA and its daily brethren quickly aligned to counter the assault on press freedom.  Reporters from major dailies including the Chicago Tribune and New York Times arrived at Edmonton to cover the Alberta legislature. On March 4, 1938, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled the Accurate News and Information Act unconstitutional. The Edmonton Journal received a special citation of the Pulitzer Prize for its efforts to counter the Aberhart muzzle. Other dailies and weeklies, including the Fort Macleod Gazette, also received Pulitzer citations.

We recommend your next study not only include community weeklies, but examine the decision making behind the pages and coverage you suggest prove bias. We serve a valuable role as government watchdog. To hinder this right is anything but democratic.

Murray Elliott
President, Alberta Weekly Newspapers Association

June 4, 2012

Dear Mr. Elliott,

Thank you for your letter dated June 1, 2012. In future Alberta media studies, the FDA will include Alberta weekly newspapers. With circulation around 800,000, in our opinion Alberta weekly newspapers represent a significant part of the Alberta newspaper market. In addition, I appreciate your suggestion for the FDA to explore the reasons for media bias in any future reports. We will add that to the reports as well.

I understand your concerns about the protection of press freedom from government interference. I realize that there is a delicate balance between freedom of the press and broad, balanced election coverage. I think a voluntary press code of conduct during the 28 election period would be a good start, rather than simply let the market and press ownership determine coverage. A code of conduct which includes broad, balanced coverage would still allow the press to express its views about candidates and parties. A primary intention of the FDA Media Report is to create a discourse on media coverage during the election period.

Stephen Garvey
FDA Executive Director

AWNA Letter to the FDA

FDA Letter to the ANWA

2012 FDA Media Study on the Alberta Election

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting background on legislative media control in the province. Certainly, we can not forget the importance of having a free media and the issues involved with compromising this. At the same time however, the media has a certain obligation to report to the public. And while equal coverage may not always be possible, greater coverage should be expected.

    What concerned me the most in the last provincial election, at least from what I saw, was the lack of coverage for all party platforms in particular. As this is easily found and highly useful, it would be greatly beneficial for the press to present this information to the public directly for, at the very least, all parties running in their respective area (this was not the case in Calgary, from what I saw). Mr Elliot's insight that contacting certain parties was difficult is greatly appreciated though, and shows how the lack of such coverage, inherently more difficult to obtain than a platform for example, may in fact be due to a lack of support from these parties and not necessarily a motivated desire to exclude these viewpoints.


Thank you for sharing your perspective.