Now the election is over and we, as good democrats, will learn to live with the results for the next term. After the passion and turmoil that characterised this campaign like no other, I wanted to address a couple of issues that arose during the melee. The Times was accused, in the most angry tones, of bias against some candidates, or in favour of others. That was certainly the case, particularly by the end of the campaign, after we had been subjected to innuendo, outright lies, and character assassination. The real question is: was it wrong for us to have such a bias?
Let me ask you: did you vote? If so, you chose one or a few candidates over others. Were you biased? Of course you were; you decided that some individuals deserved your support while others did not. Was it wrong for you to favour some over the others? No, that is not only your right in a democratic society, it is your responsibility to choose for the benefit, as you see it, of all. The argument will be made that local media, such as ourselves, should not show such bias. Is that true? Is there a law, a regulation, a text that says so? No, there isn’t.
Quite the contrary: surely, if the Times knows things about candidates, they should report it? The ones who demand equality and transparency would surely have it no other way. As for equality, each candidate was given the same amount of space in this newspaper to make their case to the voters. Each was free to have their say without editing or censoring. Even then, online comments were saying we had excluded some candidates, which was obviously untrue: there they were in the paper! But the nature and content of much of the social media postings was incredibly vile and personal, not just against other candidates, but against the Times.
I have noticed this strange quirk before: there are those who think that pointing out a flaw, a problem, or objectionable behaviour in someone is somehow worse than the problem being pointed out. Instead of asking: is this true?, or why would they print it if it isn’t true?, people react angrily to the very fact that it is being pointed out in the first place. But that is the role of media: to tell people what’s going on, and if that involves accusations of bias, then what do people think we should have done? Stayed silent when we knew the truth, and allow the issue to go unaddressed? Is that responsible journalism? I don’t think so.
And what is responsible behaviour for voters? It ought to be, surely, to ask the questions posed above: is what they’re saying true? Why are they saying it, what is their motivation? What is their evidence? As an historian, I believe in the essential nature of footnotes, of being able to provide sources, evidence, and that is something I think is demanded by journalism also.
There was another issue raised during the past few months that was used against the Times, and me in particular, that I think needs addressing. My attitude, and that of the paper, to the LBGTQ community has been seen as somehow negative, that we do not support them against discrimination as we should. Naturally, I don’t think that’s true, but it has been suggested that I have not made myself clear and have left myself open to misinterpretation. So let’s clarify.
The point I would make is that we have a common humanity, and that humanity is flawed. We all know that we do not always act, think, or speak the way we would want to at our best. None of us live up to what we want to be, and that is often a source of grief and confusion. But that flaw does not attach to whether we are male, female, trans, Christian, Moslem, Jewish, Atheist, LGBTQ or straight, Black, White, Brown, Indigenous, Settler, or any other distinction we make between us all. It is an aspect of our humanity, which means that none of us is in a position to condemn others for what they are, or what they believe, or any other difference we may perceive in them. Unfortunately, there are too many of us who do judge in the negative sense of convicting or condemning. People have different reasons for discrimination and prejudice: often it’s simply ignorance, not knowing the facts, or misinterpreting teachings and received wisdom. It is very easy to let this develop into grievance, victimisation, and we all, at some point, and in some way, feel we have been misunderstood, victimised, made feel unwelcome, at the very least.
As for this newspaper: we try to provide a voice to every section of our community, but that has to be used, has to be a forum for all. These pages have to be open to all shades of opinion, even those we personally find distasteful and discriminatory. Why? Because communication, education, simply talking to each other, is how we overcome prejudice, ignorance, and hatred. I have always believed that everything needs to be “on the table”, there to be addressed, discussed, and even argued over. We will never completely agree with everyone, but even knowing where they come from, who they are, what they feel and believe, will allow barriers to drop.
Is this naive? Sometimes, I think it is, especially when we are accused of endorsing views we really do not. I have a suggestion: instead of shouting into the echo chamber that is social media, addressing only those who already agree with you in saying that I’m the pawn of evil, or whatever, why not use these pages to state your case? It does mean, of course, that others will disagree with you, and that may be uncomfortable. But it is real and genuine communication. That is what will change hearts and minds. That is the whole point, and isn’t that a consummation devoutly to be wished? Let it be.