CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Who Edits the Editors?

Aug 15, 2003

A free press is one of the hallmarks of a democracy. The ability to allow various opinions to be heard is an important part of a free people.

Of course newspapers tend to reflect the left/right divide in politics. The editorial policies are often either conservative or liberal. And that is OK, provided a major city has more than one daily paper. That way one newspaper’s conservatism can be balanced by another paper’s liberalism.

Citizens can vote with their feet in choosing which newspaper they buy. Another way they can express their points of view is in the letters’ pages of most major newspapers. This is a good way for ordinary Australians to have their viewpoints given a hearing.

The editors of letters to the editor pages wield a lot of power. A fair and objective editor will seek to carefully give full recognition to the spectrum of beliefs on a given subject, and feature representative letters from various perspectives.

But a biased and censorial editor will simply pick and choose those letters which he or she agrees with. Unfortunately, these editors do exist. I have had dealings with them from time to time, as have other letter writers.

A very good example of a letter’s editor seemingly pushing his own agenda can be found in the national paper, the Australian. On certain issues, it is clear that the editor is simply allowing letters he agrees with to go in, while censoring out letters he disagrees with.

Consider the issue of homosexuality. Over a period of 8 days (from 7 August to 15 August), 20 letters on the subject appeared. Of these, 17 were in favor of homosexuality, while only 3 were against. That works out to an 85 percent approval rating, with just 15 per cent opposed.

However, survey after survey shows that the exact opposite is the case. The great majority of Australians are opposed to the homosexual agenda, and are against such ideas as gay marriage and adoption rights.

So what are we to make of these letters? Do they really reflect the views of the community? Do they even reflect the views of letter writers to the Australian? Surely this editor is not claiming that 85 per cent of the letters he received during that period were pro-homosexual, is he?

I sent a number of letters in on the subject during this period. None of mine made their way in. Neither did those of a number of other people who said they wrote as well.

This is not a case of sour grapes. My letters are often knocked back by letters’ editors. But many of my letters do get into print as well, even in left/liberal newspapers. But not one letter of mine has made it into the Australian all year. Just coincidence, or a case of imbalance and bias?

I could be mistaken, but it seems that here we have a case of a letters’ editor not reflecting the views of the community – or even letter writers to the Australian –  but pushing his own agenda.

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