Editorial September 1st, 2017
Welcome to this week’s editorial, It has been mentioned more than once that The Beagle occasionally withholds the names and addresses of letter to the Editor contributors. This week we received another letter asking why this is. Dear Beagle Editor, I admire and congratulate you on the publishing the Beagle and promote it where I can, unfortunately some people still need convincing it is not as in their words "a disgusting council bashing publication lacking credibility"
Believing in equality, freedom of speech, honesty and transparency, I have a gripe in regards to the publication of the Beagle's letters to the Editor which I hope you can appease? This practice in my mind and others currently undermines the credibility of both the Beagle's content and it's Editor. Letters to the Beagle Editor often do not list the writer's name and end instead with: Anonymous, Name withheld, Name and address supplied, nom de plume or a pen name- not the actual name of the writer- why is this information sometimes withheld?
If promoting honesty, integrity and at the top of the list transparency why does the Beagle undertake this practice of not publishing the author's details? Checking other publications terms of reference for letter publication this practice does not seem supported by newspapers such as the Sydney Morning Herald or The Age.
Hope you can clarify the intent or change the current situation as these letters lack some credibility or can be interpreted by some as your own. If an author wants publication they should be happy to stand behind or in this case below their words Otherwise keep up the great work and contribution to the community it is appreciated cheers S Bassington-Smyth (name changed by editor for this editorial) The Beagle Editors response is as follows: Thank you for your letter and for raising this subject. The Beagle made the decision at its launch in November 2016 that it would respect the rights of those who requested that their name and address not be published. In publishing a letter the content, and only the content is considered. There are many authors of letters that have strong convictions in what they write and in most part, are very well informed. Herein lies the issue. Those who write are often informed by sources that in turn rely on confidentiality. You might notice that, more often than not, opinion pieces written in The Beagle actually have information that Councillors have not been advised of. To provide the name of the author puts at risk the very network that we have, and respect, that trusts the Beagle to inform and include the community in the way it does. The authors of those letters know the publishing rules and are careful not to bring litigation on themselves. Some authors are directly informed by Council staff and if those staff members were revealed there would be considerable consequences. Other contributors also do not want to be castigated in the public domain as they walk down the street or be rung at midnight by someone who has taken objection to their piece. This does happen, all too often. It was decided that, so long as The Beagle knew who the person was then the letter could be published with name and address supplied. The Australian Journalist’s Code of Ethics states that journalists should: ...aim to attribute information to its source. Where a source seeks anonymity, do not agree without first considering the source’s motives and any alternative attributable source. Where confidences are accepted, respect them in all circumstances. Protection of journalists’ sources is one of the basic conditions of free press. As recognized by the European Court of Human Rights in 1966, without such protection, sources may be deterred from assisting the press in informing the public on matters of public interest. I appreciate that some in the community including members of Council’s own staff might feel that The Beagle is "a disgusting council bashing publication lacking credibility" however there are also many in the community who appreciate that there are very serious issues being raised that would not normally have come to light such as several breaches by staff of the Local Government Act, breaches of the EPA Act and revelations of major decisions that have been made behind closed doors that have a social or financial impact on ratepayers yet there was little if any true consultation done. Returning to my determination to publish a letter. Letters today arrive by email and it is not possible, without face to face verification with 100 points of ID to determine if S Bassington-Smyth of Tuross Head with the email address of email@example.com is real or not. I note that there are no S Bassington-Smyths in the White Pages so I am unable to contact them to verify their name or their address however I respect their letter, its content and their question and publish it in good faith irrespective as to who they are. Certainly I could add at the bottom of a letter (Note: name and address might be dodgy and made up) but I do ask the question; what is the relevance of the name (unless of course it is representative of an official body or business) to the content of the letter. Can one only have a viewpoint or make a comment upon presentation of 100 points of ID? The same approach has been taken of the Beagle’s comments field where it is not compulsory for commenters to provide a real (or false) name with a real (or false) email address. Each comment is assessed and if it is deemed to be the comment of a person who believes in what they write, positive, negative or neutral and they do so to express concern, anger, frustration, elation, appreciation or otherwise then is their name more relevant than their sentiment and the fact that they have bothered to write and participate one way or another in conversation that is otherwise not available to them. We salute those who want to say something and we try as best we can to ensure they are not censored nor abbreviated in what they write. We welcome whistleblowers and also the Council apologist trolls who bombard the comments section and our email inbox with their bile. They too are moderated. Funnily enough none of them use their real names. Until next, lei