Fair and equitable election coverage is necessary to maintain broadcast licences, not to mention Canadian democracy

Lee HardingYou’ve heard of stage diving and photo bombing, but Faith Goldy has pulled a new one: stage storming.

“Good morning, sorry to interrupt, I must have missed my invitation in the mail,” she said, having taken the stage to a Toronto mayoral election debate to which she was not invited.

The candidate was armed with petition signatures of those who wanted her present.

However, security swept her from the stage before the public could hear what she had to say.

Broadcast media may have done the same and if that’s the case, regulators should take note. Fair and equitable election coverage is necessary for continued broadcast licences, not to mention Canadian democracy.

Goldy is a controversial figure with strong views and media savvy. This is normally a formula for copious media coverage, but Goldy has found it lacking.

Here’s one example: when 1010 AM radio host John Moore was asked for reasons, he said, “Get back to me if she polls above four per cent.”

Goldy tweeted back “knock knock” with a link to a MainStreet poll that showed her at six per cent support – almost as much as the combined 6.4 per cent of all 32 candidates with less.

Moore responded, “It is not included on the list of polling companies that meet industry standards. As such we do not use their polls.”

Doubters weren’t buying that, since the station used the pollsters for 2014 elections, interviewed them in that capacity a week prior, and CTV (owned by the same parent company) used MainStreet in the 2018 Ontario provincial election.

If media bias is present, Goldy’s stage stunt has ensured that radio silence will not be how it’s expressed. She has just provided Toronto politics with its most interesting spectacle since previous mayor Rob Ford took questions on crack videos, bowled over city councillors and bonked his head on cameras.

Besides this, Goldy’s platform presents a sharp contrast to the status quo.

Incumbent Mayor John Tory deemed Toronto a sanctuary city, but had to ask for provincial and federal help after refugees filled 40 per cent of shelter spaces, with 10 more arriving daily.

Goldy wants to “stop illegal migrants from draining the city’s resources.”

She also wants to reinstate the Toronto Anti-Violence Policing Strategy that was done away with in 2014. Crime has worsened since and the more than 80 murders so far this year are almost double at the same point last year. Tory and second-place candidate Jennifer Keesmaat want handguns banned, leaving honest citizens disarmed and vulnerable to armed criminals. Meanwhile, Goldy promised to “stand with the 100,000 law-abiding gun owners.”

But this debate of literal life-and-death importance is being denied Toronto voters.

Goldy places the blame on Tory. In a Sept. 12 news release, he wrote, “The mayor is ready and willing to debate any candidate who does not have a history of hatred or bigotry.”

Goldy, smeared by some as a white nationalist, saw a clear reference to herself.

Ironically, this was not enough to change the minds of broadcasters, who maintained their debate lockout even while they covered these issues. The headline of a Global News article read, “Tory, Keesmaat face off in 1st Toronto mayoral debate, controversial candidate escorted out by police.”

The headline excluded Goldy’s name, despite an article that dedicated its first five paragraphs to the candidate. To boot, this article confirmed the debate it co-hosted with AM640 would also be Faith-less: “On Tuesday, four candidates – Climenhaga, Gebresellassi, Keesmaat and Tory – will square off again in a live debate hosted by Global News.”

Some wonder if this flouts regulations of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC).

At first glance, it might seem broadcasters are in the clear. “News coverage should generally be left to the editorial judgment of the broadcaster,” the regulations say. As well, “Debate programs do not have to feature all rival parties or candidates in one or more programs.”

Nonetheless, “Equity also applies … to issue coverage and approach, to conditions under which an appearance may be made. …”

Neither a mayor’s protest nor a broadcaster’s preference can be used to exclude a popular candidate, especially when doing so squelches important debate.

The CRTC has made this requirement explicit since 1987, when it said, “It is the broadcaster’s duty to ensure that the public has adequate knowledge of the issues surrounding an election and the position of the parties and candidates. The broadcaster does not enjoy the position of a benevolent censor who is able to give the public only what it ‘should’ know. Nor is it the broadcaster’s role to decide in advance which candidates are ‘worthy’ of broadcast time.”

An uninformed public makes an uninformed vote. Broadcasters who exclude leading candidates like Faith Goldy from the media will leave voters with less faith in the media.

Neither of these results is in the Canadian interest.

Lee Harding is Research Associate for the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.


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