Accuracy and Letters to the Editor

By Ryan McGreal
Published October 17, 2007

Here's a question for any media theorists among the RTH readership: what's a newspaper's responsibility to fact-check letters to the editor?

One letter in today's Hamilton Spectator ("Give MMP plan a rest") reads in part:

If we had been using the proposed MMP system in last week's election the results would have been essentially the same -- a majority government elected with less than a majority of the popular vote. We would, however, now have 39 (or so) unelected politicians whose salaries, perks, pensions, etc., we would be paying for.

Where to begin?

Election Results Not Proportionate

First, the results would certainly not have been "essentially the same" under a proportionate system.

The Liberals received 42 percent - less than half - of the popular vote but 66 percent - more than half - of the seats (71 out of 107).

The Conservatives, by contrast, received 31 percent of the popular vote but only 24 percent of the seats (yes, the Tories were actually hurt by first-past-the-post in this election).

The NDP received 17 percent of the vote but only nine percent of the seats; and the poor Greens received 8 percent of the vote but zero percent of the seats.

MMP Members Are Elected

Second, the 39 non-constituency members would certainly be elected, since the MMP plan involved two votes: one for the local representative and one for the party.

Parties would have been required to make their process for choosing proportional members public, and all had indicated that they would pick those members by party vote.

(In any case, many candidates today are hand-picked by the party leadership and 'parachuted' into safe ridings without local voting.)

The Newspaper's Role

I can understand why a private citizen might be so poorly informed about MMP - especially given the terrible job the government and mainstream newsmedia did of presenting the proposal - but what does it say about the Spectator for letting such demonstrably false claims into print?

Perhaps the paper feels it's necessary to publish letters such as this one so the letters page represents the diversity of what readers believe.

In that case, what does it say about the anti-MMP stance if it requires bogus arguments to defend it?

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.

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By Ted Mitchell (registered) | Posted October 18, 2007 at 10:20:28

It starts with fear. Then rationalization. Then outright lies.

If these people could admit they were wrong, or even simply pass on commenting on issues they do not understand, it would never go that far.

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