Monday, November 11, 2013

Ego, Corruption and Truth Collide

Journalists are different from other people. We're trained to report on all sides without fear or favour. We're trained to serve the people, not the powers that be – which includes governments and our unions and our political beliefs and the nice people who sign our cheques.”

These words were published by Tim Knight in his regular column Watching the Watchdog: Why Citizen Bloggers Aren't Journalists for HuffPost Canada, October 4th 2013. To be more correct, Tim Knight wrote those words and it was HuffPost Canada that did the publishing, after all accuracy is important when dealing with a subject like journalists. It was later cut, pasted, and republished by John Malloy on The Canadian Daily.

Now that accuracy has been checked, one would be hard pressed to find a more pompous and self inflated egotistical comment in print anywhere. Then again, it is Knight who claims that “professional” journalists need not quote “sources,” and that “acerbic judgements” are permitted to such highly regarded individuals.

Tim Knight continues with his exultation of the virtues of journalists saying, “Our first, last and only important responsibility is to be trustworthy servants of the people and their right to know the truth about what's happening in their world.” One has to stop and reach for a brown paper bag in case the digestive system wishes to revolt after reading these words. “Trustworthy servants of the people...,” can it be that Tim Knight actually believes in what he wrote?

There was a time when the public had unequivocal trust in what the newspaper boy on the corner was selling for a few cents. Those days have long passed into history, as has the price and newspaper boy. Reality hasn't stopped Tim Knight from quoting another dinosaur from the journalists' hall of fame. Knight claims that he doesn't go as far as Morley Safer, a former co-host of CBS's 60 Minutes, but he still quoted him as stating: “I would trust citizen journalists as much as I would trust citizen surgery – The blogosphere is no alternative, crammed as it is with ravings and manipulations of every nut with a keyboard.” Maybe someone should of reminded old Morley as to how many doctors did not know the difference between left and right before extracting the wrong organ. Or had old Morley not read about the number of misdiagnosed cases by doctors, or the fact that many doctors ask for one's credit card prior to putting on the trusty rubber gloves.

Reality is often a difficult pill to swallow, and dinosaurs only relate to the Big Bang Theory in the end. Tim Knight claims to have had some journalism student at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops BC, going by the name of Danya LeBlanc, ask him questions on the subject of citizen journalists. Since Knight subscribes to the idea that professional journalists do not need to concern themselves with sources and adds at the bottom of his article, in bold print, “All the interviews have been edited and condensed,” one may not be blamed to question the existence of a Danya LeBlanc. Or in the least what, if she does exist, did Danya really ask? Regardless, it is Tim Knight's response that matters, he said, “There's no such thing as citizen journalists,” he calls them “citizen bloggers.”

Bloggers are not by nature into accuracy, balance and fairness, the hallmarks of good journalists.” By nature ego precludes such mundane criteria as accuracy, balance and fairness. After all simply look at the masthead where Tim Knight's article appears on HuffPost. It is a BLOG!

Experienced professional journalists, what does that really mean? Experienced, well that is someone who has done something more than once. Professional, the same, someone who has done a thing more than once and has been paid to do it again. Finally, journalist, now that is a good one to answer. Competence in their given language is quite beneficial to begin with. An ability to analyze facts, carry out research, and then put all of that into a well worded package. Most importantly, one who calls themselves a journalist has to know the right questions to ask, and recognise when an answer is removed from the truth. Granted this last one comes with experience, which again goes back to doing something more than once.

Getting all the fundamentals out of the way, it is time to challenge Tim Knight, his ego, and his Kamloops student, if she really exists. Knight continues to bandy about terms like “professional journalist,” and “experienced, trusted, report facts, due diligence,” and so much more. Since these words come from a man who appears to think of himself as becoming suddenly a “journalism guru” and “modest” to boot, Tim Knight should be able to explain just how “professional” journalists really are.

The first that comes to mind of course is a no brainer, Ezra Levant. Here is a guy who has written for newspapers, magazines and is a host of his own television show dealing with news and current events. Ezra Levant is paid to do all of this, he has done it more than once, and claims to have analyzed facts and asked the right questions. All criteria for 'journalism', professional and experienced has been checked. How does Tim Knight explain this one? OK, we have all heard and used the excuse of the one bad apple and the thing of the whole basket. Phew! We got that one out of the way early.

Now the serious stuff begins, and it is truly serious. Tim Knight's insane statement describing journalists to be “trustworthy servants of the people,” needs clarification. It is time for Knight to explain himself in light of situations that are inexcusable.

Almost a year ago an international fiasco began to unfold in Canada. Chief Theresa Spence set herself up as a martyr, willing to sacrifice herself for her people. At the same time a First Nations movement began to make loud noises, claiming that IDLE NO MORE was not only for First Nations but the protection of Mother Earth. Chief Theresa Spence claimed to be on a hunger strike, making demands of the Prime Minister and Governor-General. Journalists were drawn in like flies and it became a media frenzy. Chief Spence reached not only national recognition but became a symbol on the international stage, as a hero. One simple problem, it was all a farce. The hunger strike was downgraded to a fast, the demands to mere rants. Still these “trustworthy servants of the people” fed on the carcass of deceit.

Information was uncovered that tens of millions of dollars had gone missing from Chief Theresa Spence's Attawapiskat Reserve. True the federal government had done an audit and found irregularities but this information was in addition to the audit. All of the information supported with direct evidence and official documentation was published in a series of articles on Mayorgate. An attempt was made to provide all of this material to the media. An email was received from Kevin Libin, Managing Editor at the National Post and in it he claimed that he was “unable to find much that hadn't already been reported about Spence.” Here the choice of language was carefully considered. Libin could not say that he had not found anything that had not already been reported, instead he used the word “much”.

The fact remained that after examining the dozens upon dozens of reports and stories at the time relating to Spence, nowhere could one find these facts brought forward. No one, not Libin's National Post, nor his reporter Jonathan Kay, or anyone else raised these financial issues, or provided questions based on the evidence made available to Kevin Libin. When CTV had an opportunity to ask some hard questions of Chief Theresa Spence, journalist Kevin Newman instead asked Spence how her daughters were handling the situation.

So much for Knight's “important responsibility” or the “people and their right to know the truth about what's happening in their world.” Now to pop over to another major newspaper, this time the Toronto Star. Not a small village community newsletter or a supermarket tabloid, but a major journalistic effort in a major marketplace.

An article was published titled 'Lake of Shame', the journalist who wrote this article was Antonia Zerbisias. Environmentalists from both sides of Lake Ontario have fought for years over issues of contaminates and dumping into the lake. Some environmentalists have shown that anything goes in the race for a buck in donations. Still millions of people get their drinking water from Lake Ontario. Fishing and recreational industries bring in tens of millions of dollars. This was an important article.

In 'Watching the Watchdog: Why Citizen Bloggers Aren't Journalists,' Tim Knight makes this claim. “And just so you know before anything we write can go to print or on air, a senior journalist first checks and edits it for accuracy and grammar etc.” Knight's own words once again.

Since in his words Tim Knight claims that a senior journalist first checks for accuracy before anything goes to print or air then presumably he can excuse, or explain this. Antonia Zerbisias has been with the Toronto Star since 1989, that's a few years. She had won the 1996 National Newspaper Award for critical writing – the award noting that Zerbisias “is not one to mince with words as she focuses on the subject matter at hand. She proceeds to give us her insights, analysis and critique not only with rhetorical, stylistic and intellectual rigor, but with gusto and passion, a rare commodity in today's bland politically correct journalism.” (In Your Face the Ryerson Review of Journalism, Spring 2006).

In her article 'Lake of Shame', Zerbisias claimed that dump trucks loaded with asphalt were emptying their loads into Lake Ontario. For the article Antonia Zerbisias interviewed Mark Mattson of the Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, and when questioned on this very serious allegation, Antonia Zerbisias responded July 18th 2011 with this rather shocking statement. She claimed that the information came from Mark Mattson, then said, “I did not verify his words, which might have been a mistake. Still, it is quite possible that Mark was wrong, and that, as a result, I got it wrong.” Antonia Zerbisias never responded again to any attempts at contact.

According to Tim Knight, these “professional ... servants of the people” have their material checked for accuracy. He further claims that, “If these things were not so, experienced journalists wouldn't be able to write some of the things they do.” Apparently it is a “matter of professional trust,” these trusted servants do not need to quote sources, instead all they need to do is to rely “on his (her) professional understanding of the situation.” Finally Knight claims that judgements are based on the fact that they are “trusted, really knows the subject, has done his (her) due diligence and proved his (her) worth over the years.”

Can any of this pomposity and egotism explain the greatest travesty possible in a democratic society. At the United Nations an Independent expert, Alfred M. de Zayas made this statement, “There can be no democracy without freedom of opinion. You should not be subjected to the pressures, the intimidation, whether by Government or by the private sector, which would force you into self-censorship.”

A strong and valid sentiment from the UN's independent expert. Alfred M. de Zayas is an American lawyer of Cuban descent, he is a writer, historian and a leading expert in the field of human rights and international law. He went on to say, If you censor yourself, if you cannot articulate your needs, if you cannot articulate your priorities, then whatever you do, putting a little cross in a ballot box, etc, does not represent your view. It is an act of desperation” (Highlights from the Importance of free expression in New York, October 28, 2013).

Under the shadow of such words, can anyone in Canada accept, or believe that self-imposed censorship is possible, or that it exists? Can Tim Knight in all his pomposity explain, or excuse such a travesty? It is an open challenge to Tim Knight the “journalism guru” to comment on.

In St. Catharines, Ontario, a city with a population of approximately 130,000, there is only one real newspaper under the Sun Media banner, The Standard. True there is a community newspaper, Niagara this Week, which is delivered free to homes twice a week, but here the news is either stale or has not yet happened. There is no television, although the local radio station, now owned by Bell Media boasts with the title, CKTB NewsTalk Radio. It is home to Brock University and Niagara College, where not only Canada's future is molded, but potentially that of the world with a large number of international students.

Tim Knight claims that journalists are somehow different to other people, though he quotes no sources to support this assumption, nor does he provide any facts to verify. He states, “We're trained to report on all sides without fear or favour,” he definitely includes himself in this, and continues “We're trained to serve the people, not the powers that be...” It is an almighty boast and halo that he himself hangs about himself and his ilk. Then it has to be correctly presumed that this guru of journalism can explain the following.

At The Standard, Marlene Bergsma has occupied the position as reporter for many years. She has won and been nominated for a number of newspaper awards, and is considered a senior reporter. Marlene Bergsma lied in an article in order to protect the mayor of the city. Mayor Brian McMullan had fixed a lawful by-law fine, an act that is in breach of the Municipal Act and breach of law. In October of 2010 Marlene Bergsma wrote an article during the municipal elections and lied. Her publisher knew she lied, her editor knew she lied but still the lie was permitted. No one wanted to publish the facts at the time, or for that matter since. As a result of this published lie and the censorship imposed by The Standard and the freely delivered community newspaper Niagara this Week a blog, Mayorgate was born.

The lie first published by Marlene Bergsma was then repeated by another reporter at The Standard. Peter Downs simply parroted Bergsma's lies in another story that he wrote. These trained servants of the people truly proved how trustworthy they were. An article appeared on Mayorgate titled You Are A Liar Bergsma!!!, detailing the lie and provided absolute proof of the fact it was a lie. As one Googles Marlene Bergsma's name that article and its title appears under her name, it has been there since October 2010!

Since October 2010, The Standard has seen city editor and senior editor chairs change butts. Even the publisher's leather chair (leather is only a presumption as there is not a reliable source to quote), has graced a couple of different butts. New reporters have been added to the stable, although Marlene Bergsma is still there, and so is the title of Mayorgate's article on Google. One might admit that to have a bold faced lie published under one's name takes guts, and that a less courageous liar simply lies by intentional omission of facts and truth.

Jeff Bolichowski is a newer addition to the stable at The Standard. He does not have the pedigree of Bergsma as far as nominations or wins go at this stage, though he is a reporter, a paid professional journalist. On August 27th 2013, Jeff Bolichowski wrote an article titled St. Catharines Mayor calls police on councillor. In this article Bolichowski quotes both Mayor Brian McMullan and Councillor Andy Petrowski. One said that the other was “belligerent in tone and demeanour,” implying a verbal confrontation. The other said that he did not confront the mayor. A classic he said, she said scenario. Bolichowski asked the police about this incident, the Niagara Regional Police Service said that police were not required and there was no investigation.

So what is the story here? A better question is, who called The Standard and Jeff Bolichowski? After all this was not a cry for assistance for an officer down, or a high speed car chase of suspects over the police radio, or a shoot out with armed bandits. The fact is this was no story at all, but the headline was an attention grabber and something was missing. Councillor Petrowski requested a copy of the police report. When Councillor Petrowski finally received a copy of the report file GO#2013-75533 by Officer David Weeks he called Jeff Bolichowski and offered him a copy. Bolichowski refused to look at the report and stated he stood by his article.

The official police report states, “McMullan left without engaging Petrowski,” and that “no incident occurred that necessitated police involvement.” Nothing here warranted such an article title and no real story existed. Tim Knight claims that journalists are trained to serve the people, “not the powers that be – which includes governments...”. Who did this article serve, and why would Jeff Bolichowski refuse to look at the police report?

Self-imposed censorship is an affront to democracy. Whether one listens to the words of the UN independent expert on democracy Alfred M. de Zayas or Tim Knight's “the people and their right to know the truth about what's happening in their world,” self-imposed censorship can only been seen as a travesty and it is unacceptable. In St. Catharines the blanket of censorship is absolute, and the right of the people ignored to an extreme level of obscenity. It is more than the publishing of lies or deceit by omission by reporters Marlene Bergsma and Jeff Bolichowski, it is intentional obstruction of facts and information that the community as a whole have a right to know.

A businessman with connections at the City had broken laws and breached provincial legislation for over five years without any consequences. City staff, paid by the public purse, have been fully aware of the intentional breaches. Mayor Brian McMullan, and Councillors Jeff Burch and Jennie Stevens have been fully involved with the situation since 2008. At a City Council meeting in April 2013 lawyer John Willey, representing the businessman, Sam Demita, lied on public record in order to have two new by-laws passed for his client. Councillor Jeff Burch became party to the lie in an attempt to deceive fellow councillors for a vote in favour of Sam Demita. An integrity commissioner examining breach of conduct allegations against Councillor Jeff Burch expressed her dismay at the conduct of the media. Integrity Commissioner Suzanne Craig said that she had contacted local media providing an opportunity for any questions to be brought forward. Suzanne Craig was shocked that no one from the local media called or knocked on her door.

After the April 2013 Council meeting an application was filed to the Ontario Municipal Board. Information was provided to The Standard and Niagara this Week. Whilst at the April Council meeting Jeff Bolichowski tweeted information regarding claims made publicly of the breaches of law, but not a word appeared in his article after the meeting. Information was provided to Jeff Bolichowski that proved Sam Demita's lawyer John Willey lied regarding key facts. Bolichowski ignored everything. Niagara this Week was represented by Scott Rosts at the April 2013 public meeting. Scott Rosts did not write anything after the meeting or since, even though all the same information was provided to him as The Standard's Jeff Bolichowski, even though Scott Rosts sent an email stating he will be writing about the situation closer to the OMB hearing date.

Copies of a letter, with the official letterhead, confirming the application to the Ontario Municipal Board were provided to The Standard and Niagara this Week, no comment was heard in response. Finally the OMB confirmed a hearing date, set for November 19th, copies of this letter was also sent to both The Standard and Niagara this Week, not a word appeared in either newspaper. Tim Parent, News Director of CKTB NewsTalk Radio was contacted by phone, during the phone conversation he was told of the blanket of censorship. Tim Parent asked for all the details and documentation to be brought to him, he acted somewhat shocked about the situation. Both his words and his act were simply lies, the phone conversation was recorded.

All the information was provided to him, nothing has been done by Tim Parent and CKTB NewsTalk Radio.

In addition to Tim Parent, radio host Jim Fannon was provided with a personal message regarding the OMB hearing, Jim Fannon hosts a program on CKTB's NewsTalk Radio, and although one's opinion of the program can remain one's own, Fannon is on 'News' Talk Radio. Together the News Director Tim Parent, and program host Jim Fannon decided to censor the news from the people of St. Catharines.

One other attempt was made to provide the people of St. Catharines what they have a right to have access to, by contacting Bullet News Niagara, an online news service. Here the publisher had exited and a new publisher had taken the reigns. The outgoing publisher, Peter Conradi had now taken a senior editorial position with The Standard again. Peter Conradi had previously held the position of City Editor at The Standard and in 2006 had doctored photographs to suit a story rather than the truth. Now Bullet News has a new man, John Robbins who made a public boast as to what Bullet News supposedly pretends to be. He claimed and praised its courage to bring all the news to the people. This self inflated boast was tested and an email was sent to John Robbins regarding the situation about the OMB and the censorship imposed. A response came from Robbins requesting all the information to be provided, it was, and nothing happened.

John Robbins, Publisher of Bullet News crammed his egotistical ravings and boasts on his keyboard in his editorial, Bullet News 'clears the air' about Kim Craitor's resignation and pushed the publish button. In the end he proved how empty and hollow those words were. Integrity Commissioner Suzanne Craig in her report comments on the “lack of clarity” that exists, and raises the question, “if any communication will be provided to residents regarding the OMB hearing on the matter regarding the Merritt Street property.”

The answer is simple, no communication will be permitted. It is a blanket of censorship equivalent to any that may be seen in Putin's Russia, or Pakistan or Syria. Yet this is Canada! Marlene Bergsma of The Standard with full intent omitted and withheld the truth from the public. Scott Rosts of Niagara this Week with full intent omitted and withheld the truth from the public. Tim Parent and Jim Fannon of CKTB NewsTalk Radio with full intent omitted and withheld the truth from the public. Finally John Robbins of Bullet News Niagara with full intent omitted and withheld the truth from the public.

Tim Knight's Watching the Watchdog: Why Citizen Bloggers Aren't Journalists, was published on a Blog, under the HuffPost banner. It was cut and pasted by John Malloy on The Canadian Daily. To use the words of someone like Morley Safer, “crammed as it is with ravings and manipulations...,” nicely describes the ego of Tim Knight.

An open challenge stands for this self appointed “journalism guru.” Tim Knight claimed, “we're trained to report on all sides without fear or favor,” he also claimed “Bloggers are not by nature into accuracy, balance and fairness, the hallmarks of good journalists.” Here three separate news bases: newspaper, radio and internet, with six individual 'journalists' (well maybe five there is no way to definitively describe Jim Fannon) who have joined together to intentionally censor the news on one issue. Tim Knight throws around terms such as “trustworthy servants of the people, experienced journalists, trained to report, trained to serve, professional trust, salaried professionals,” as rice at a wedding just prior to divorce. Most of all Tim Knight claims “These people and other experienced journalists have earned the right to analyze, to explain meaning, as well as report facts. That's because they're trusted, experienced professional journalists.”

Tim Knight has been challenged to stand behind his words and ego, but that would take 
courage and dignity, and no one will be holding their breath waiting for his response. 

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