by David Broadland

In February 2015, David Broadland critically examined the coverage of Richard Atwell, the newly-elected mayor of Saanich, by the Times Colonist. Broadland’s analysis reveals a series of articles that raise concerns about journalistic integrity, biased reporting, and the selective disclosure of information. This article explores the questionable practices employed by the Times Colonist and their potential impact on public perception and trust in the media.

A Case of Biased Reporting

The first instance of concern lies in Bill Cleverley’s articles for the Times Colonist. Cleverley’s December 20 piece, titled “A gotcha moment on April Fool’s Day,” portrayed an innocent prank orchestrated by Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard, Oak Bay Mayor Nils Jensen, and Cleverley himself. However, just two weeks later, Cleverley shifted his focus to Richard Atwell, publishing an article filled with inaccurate information and public ridicule.

Cleverley’s January 5 piece, titled “Police called after Saanich mayor involved in altercation,” described an incident involving Atwell. However, the article presented a distorted account, leaving out crucial details. The report mentioned an altercation between Atwell and a man, but it failed to mention that Atwell had actually called the police himself, expressing concern for everyone’s safety. Cleverley’s omission of this fact altered the perception of the incident, casting Atwell in a negative light.

Selective Reporting and Double Standards

Broadland highlights the double standards evident in the Times Colonist’s coverage of Atwell compared to his predecessor, Frank Leonard. In June 2009, Leonard’s divorce from Elaine Leonard and his relationship with former Saanich Councillor Jackie Ngai, resulting in the conception of a child, did not receive any media attention. The newspaper refrained from reporting on Leonard’s private life, suggesting a clear boundary between personal matters and public interest.

However, when it came to Richard Atwell, the Times Colonist departed from their previous stance. Despite lacking a substantial public interest justification, they published articles exposing Atwell’s private life to public ridicule. The newspaper failed to provide a compelling explanation for treating Atwell differently from Leonard, raising questions about their journalistic integrity.

Content Background

Flawed Rationale and Unsubstantiated Claims

Cleverley’s articles relied heavily on unnamed sources, a practice that invites skepticism and compromises the credibility of the reporting. The lack of transparency regarding these sources raises concerns about potential biases and hidden agendas. The Times Colonist failed to adhere to journalistic standards by not seeking corroborating evidence from multiple sources and neglecting to explain the anonymity of their sources.

Moreover, the Times Colonist’s attempt to justify their coverage of Atwell’s private life lacked coherence. Their rationale, centred around Atwell’s role as the chairman of the Saanich Police Board, did not provide a clear link to a conflict of interest. While Integrity BC’s Dermod Travis offered comments on the potential implications, he never mentioned a conflict of interest in his conversations with the media. The paper’s shifting and inconsistent justifications suggest a lack of a strong ethical foundation for their reporting.

The Murray Affair and Incomplete Reporting

Another significant incident involving Richard Atwell was the “Paul Murray affair.” Cleverley’s articles portrayed Atwell as forcing out Saanich’s chief administrative officer, Paul Murray, without proper justification. The coverage lacked context, failed to include Atwell’s side of the story, and relied on unnamed sources to substantiate the claims.

Atwell’s account of the events leading to Murray’s departure differed from the Times Colonist’s portrayal. Atwell stated that he had informal meetings with Saanich employees who expressed concerns about Murray’s unwillingness to work with him if elected. The mayor initiated discussions about Murray’s exit, emphasizing that it was a mutual decision. The Times Colonist’s failure to provide Atwell’s perspective and compare Murray’s severance terms with those of other municipal officials raises questions about the accuracy and completeness of their reporting.

Implications for Public Perception and Media Trust

The biased coverage of Richard Atwell by the Times Colonist has significant implications for public perception and media trust. By selectively reporting on Atwell’s personal life and omitting crucial details, the newspaper created a distorted narrative that harmed Atwell’s reputation and public image. The lack of transparency regarding sources and the inconsistent justifications provided by the paper erode trust in their reporting.

The media plays a crucial role in informing the public and shaping public opinion. It is essential for journalists to adhere to ethical standards, provide fair and balanced reporting, and avoid biased coverage. The Times Colonist’s handling of the Atwell affair raises concerns about their commitment to these principles and underscores the need for responsible and unbiased journalism. The Times Colonist’s coverage of Richard Atwell’s mayoral term in Saanich exhibited biased reporting, selective disclosure of information, and double standards. The articles by Bill Cleverley failed to provide a complete and fair account of the events, and the newspaper’s justifications for their coverage lacked coherence. These journalistic practices undermine public trust in the media and raise questions about the Times Colonist’s commitment to ethical reporting. The case of Richard Atwell serves as a reminder of the importance of unbiased journalism and the need for media outlets to uphold the principles of transparency, accuracy, and fairness.