Failure to disclose

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Independent story had hidden agenda

What do I think about my blog being attached to a newspaper that is owned by a "Quebec-based company," as Ryan Cleary of The Independent so often describes The Telegram?

Well, not a heck of a lot either way. The Herders sold the paper to Thomson in 1970, and it has been owned by a succession of mainland interests since then, including Hollinger, Canwest and current owner Transcontinental.

I am far more concerned about issues of editorial integrity. For example, if the "Quebec-based company" was pushing some kind of agenda upon the editorial content of The Telegram the way Izzy Asper did at Canwest, for example that would be cause for concern.

However, that is not happening at The Telegram. If I thought it was, I'd say so.

By continuously referencing the "Quebec-based company" that owns The Telegram, Cleary seems to suggest that outside ownership is evil, while local ownership is pure and good.

This week, Cleary himself has shown the folly behind this thinking; has demonstrated that independent ownership does not guarantee editorial independence. The main story on page one of this week's Independent (July 20) is what journalists indelicately call a "suck piece". It takes up more than a third of page one, then turns to a massive two page spread inside. And nowhere in the article does Cleary disclose to whom he is sucking up.

In other words, there is a blatant hidden agenda.

Cleary and photographer Paul Daly took a round trip to London, thanks to free tickets from Astraeus Airlines. In return, Cleary lectures us that the flight was less than one-third full, and that the airline does not have a "bottomless pit of money." The headlines exhorts us to "Use it or lose it."

Actually, Cleary didn't need to accept the free tickets to write this piece. He could have secured the essential information from a face-to-face or phone interview. But no matter I don't begrudge a reporter a freebie here and there, as long as there is full disclosure.

Nowhere in the body of the article does Cleary bring himself to say the tickets were free. You have to read the photo caption to discover that "the airline provided the paper with two round trip tickets."

But the real story here is what Cleary failed to disclose. He did say that Astraeus also serves the Humber Valley Resort, though he fails to mention that Brian Dobbin is one of the resort owners.

Nor does he reveal that Dobbin is also the majority owner and publisher of The Independent.

This raises a few questions. Is the Astraeus charter to Deer Lake, which is vital to business at the Humber Valley Resort, not viable without more traffic out of St. John's? Did Dobbin order Cleary to run this story, or did Cleary volunteer in exchange for the free travel? Why didn't Cleary disclose the Brian Dobbin connection? Did he assume the average reader would know this information? Or was it more convenient to just suppress it?

If this is what it means to be independently owned, I'll take Quebec-based ownership any day.

As I've said before, Cleary has every right to screw up his newspaper by making bad calls like this. However, this kind of nonsense does not reflect well on the reporters who write for him. Their credibility is also on the line.

If I was one of those staff, I would march into Cleary's office and give him a piece of my mind. I would ask what on earth he was thinking. And if I didn't like his answer, chances are I would resign.

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  • John
    July 27, 2010 - 14:53

    I was shocked that Ryan Cleary would sink to such a level. Writing puff-pieces as a way of attracting advertising is beneath someone with Ryan Cleary's capabilties. It's akin to sucking up to Danny Williams to get government advertising. Ryan was one of the few out there in journalism who had gonads.He's traded them in for thirty pieces of silver. That's too bad.