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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

You suck! Signed, Anonymous

Anonymous comments are in the news lately. Someone posted satirical comments about the federal election on the CBC's website.

I didn't see the messages, but Name of Paper Withheld reported that they included a reference to the Conservative candidate levitating while bathed in white light (ha!) and our current MP smoking wood pellets from a bong (HAHAHAHAHA). The First People's National Party candidate was described as chanting "treaty, treaty, treaty: I have a treaty". Some people say this was racist. Name of Paper Withheld reports that when a reporter called her about it, she pointed out that she has a treaty.

She DOES have a treaty.

Although nobody can confirm it, the powers that be at Name of Paper Withheld have decided that their former reporter Terry Halifax is the one who wrote the comments. He is now a town councillor; if he wasn't, nobody would care.

I happen to know Terry: he took over after my buddy Mack The Hack left, and we are friendly because we worked Up There at the same time (but for different news media). He is refusing to say whether he wrote the comments.

Name of Paper Withheld's editorial board has this to say:

Many people, if asked, would likely admit to hiding their identity when posting comments online. It's the curse of the Internet. All too often people hide their distasteful and outlandish opinions with a fictitious name or address.

Yeah, you can laugh.

But this is leading somewhere.

I read the CBC's comment section at least once a day. It is full of garbage, and the Paper of Record's comment section is just as bad. I bet Name of Paper Withheld would have the same problem if they allowed comments on their stories. This makes me really mad. And everyone's been talking about Terry like he's a racist psychopath, when these comments are not even close to the worst things I've seen on the CBC's website. I don't understand why we're all upset about Terry and the satire he may or may not have written. The CBC should bear some responsibility for the things it publishes.

All news media publish feedback from readers, listeners and viewers. This is not new. What is new is that they appear to have thrown out their standards about what to publish. This is partly because it is almost impossible to monitor all of the comments people send to a large national media organisation's website. Although they apply editorial standards to the letters they publish in their dead-tree versions and the TalkBack they broadcast during their shows, you can post any sort of unverified crap on their websites.

I don't know why, but even the nicest people can turn into jerks online when they hide as anonymice. It's cowardly and stupid. If you really believe something, put your name behind it. We'll all respect you more when we know you're not trying to hide your identity.

I didn't see the post that caused all of the fuss, but I laughed at several of the snippets Name of Paper Withheld published. They were obviously satire. I bet the CBC would have accepted that post as a local column, and if parts of it really were offensive, they would have asked the writer to change those bits. That's because they feel an obligation to keep racist material off their news and current-affairs programs. They should take the same care with their website.

CBC would never, ever allow someone on air anonymously. Even a confidential source has to give his or her name to a reporter, and usually at least one of the higher-ups has to know who the source is and why the news organisation should protect his or her identity. You cannot tell a reporter that your name is "JustPeeChee" and expect to be taken seriously.

People like to say the Internet has changed everything about the news media. I disagree. It has changed many things, but the same rules of journalism should still apply.


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Haha that was me. I just had to.

Anonymous said...

Rules. What rules? Name of paper withheld makes them up as they go along. In fact, there are no rules anymore which is why I'm a publicist instead of writing for editors who somehow manage to take every story and put their "stamp" on it.

I still have a fond spot for the CBC. Alas, PBS doesn't quite measure up! Wendy Mesley rules.

scribe said...

That was me in the above post--I accidentally pushed anon. Horrors! I am not one of those people! said...

Hi Megan,
I stumbled across this quite by accident and glad I did. :)
For the record, I never chose to "hide my identity," but that's the nature of blogging. I made no secret about my real identity on that site and anyone who made an effort could have determined that easily.
My whole point was that if anyone disagreed with my comments on that blog, there is a forum for that.
These people (read wingnuts) came to Council Chambers to voice their outrage over what they read on the internet.
The addle-brained mayor and his smarmy deputy, along with Councillor Wood sought to make some political hay on the back of one of their opponents.
Not only did they permit and participate in this charade, they all took turns voicing their self-righteous indignation over these "racist" comments. Councillor Wood even forced some crocodile tears.
It's not my job to explain to the world the not-so-subtle differences between satire and racism, but I certainly didn't expect the CBC and the Name of Paper Withheld to attack freedom of speech with such zeal.
What I did was funny. What our remedial media did was immoral. They fanned the flames of racism where there was none and they besmirched my good name to serve what greater good? A tawdry look into the personal thoughts of a public official? Tabloid trash. Agnew and Valpy should be ashamed for what they put their reporters through.


True North S