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Editorial: We won't be bullied by anyone

By: Sudbury Northern Life Staff

 | Aug 25, 2014 - 12:00 PM |
Earlier this month, the WikiLeaks Sudbury site posted an article making ridiculous accusations against Northern Life's city hall reporter, Darren MacDonald. We're not going to repeat the site's wild claims here, but we are going to defend our staff.

Earlier this month, the WikiLeaks Sudbury site posted an article making ridiculous accusations against Northern Life's city hall reporter, Darren MacDonald. We're not going to repeat the site's wild claims here, but we are going to defend our staff.

At Northern Life and NorthernLife.ca, we might be a bit idealistic. We believe news should be reported as objectively as possible, with all sides of an issue given a fair hearing.

We believe readers are intelligent people capable of making their own decisions. Our job is to give them accurate information. Northern Life takes that duty – and our responsibility to you, our readers – very seriously.

If you disagree with something we've reported, Northern Life's publisher, editor and reporters are just a phone call away. You can even stop by the office on Elgin Street to address your concerns in person. We're not perfect, but we're accountable for everything on our website and in our print editions.

Why are we telling you this?

Because earlier this month, the WikiLeaks Sudbury site posted an article making ridiculous accusations against Northern Life's city hall reporter, Darren MacDonald. We're not going to repeat the site's wild claims here, but we are going to defend our staff.

Although it should go without saying, we want to be clear: This story is an absurd fabrication that attempts to destroy an innocent man's reputation. Worse, the lies are being repeated in the comments on local media sites, and our concern is that no matter how far-fetched, a lie repeated often enough is more likely to be taken as truth by some.

Northern Life does not stray away from criticism. If you send us a letter taking issue with something we've covered, we'll print it. That's what a newspaper opinion page is for: discussion and opinions.

To lob attacks at MacDonald and the newspaper from behind an anonymous computer screen, however, is just cowardly.

It's not hard to figure out why the attacks are coming now. For the last several years, anyone who is critical of city government doesn't have to look hard to find an audience. And while the city has much to answer for – we have written those stories, too – deep public cynicism toward Tom Davies Square has meant anyone, no matter how unscrupulous, can manipulate the public simply by claiming the city is to blame.

A case in point is Neville Hewage, the former water treatment operator at the city’s Wanapitei Water Treatment Plant who didn't want to clean the bathroom like everyone else who worked there. So he told his employer, the city, he would sue them for a human rights violation if they tried to force him. They did, he sued, and at first, Hewage received uncritical media coverage as a victim of city government.

As with many things, there was more to the story, which was revealed during the human rights tribunal hearing. It also came out during the hearing the city believed Hewage was behind the WikiLeaks Sudbury site. Hewage didn't comment on the accusation, but the website is littered with Freedom of Information Act (FOI) requests focused on the people Hewage named in his human rights complaint.

Incidentally, Hewage is also facing fraud charges in connection with more FOIs filed using a false affidavit, in an apparent attempt to make it appear as though more people were involved in the case. He filed a human rights complaint related to the the fraud charges, too, but lost again.

Officially, however, the owner and operator of Wikileaks Sudbury is completely anonymous. We've contacted the owner through the method described on the website to ask that this falsehood be removed, but have not received any response or explanation.

It's a modern reality that, while there's a lot more information available thanks to the Internet, there's also a lot more nonsense. Whether it's Big Pharma, Big Oil, factory farming or anti-vaccination, if it's large, faceless and corporate, it's not hard to convince many people it's also malevolent.

So it is with city hall.

But not every opponent of the city is a victim of municipal incompetence. Today, more than ever, it's vital newspapers report facts and remain objective, not feed into knee-jerk anger at city hall. Frankly, it would be a lot easier for us to do that, but it would also be wrong, and we take our responsibility to you too seriously for that.

As a newspaper, we support whisteblowing. When uncovering a wrong or exposing a scandal, whistleblowers certainly serve the public good, and the public good is what community newspapers are all about.

But reporting on scandal without looking critically at the claims being made serves no one and focusses attention away from real problems with local government, or any government.

Wikileaks Sudbury might have attacked our credibility covering city hall, but we don't feel we need to defend Northern Life's record of coverage. On our Op-Ed page and in the opinion section of NorthernLife.ca, this newspaper has been critical of the city and the council when we felt it necessary, and we will continue to do so. 


But we won't be bullied by anyone.

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