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Opinions matter. Public opinions, your opinions, matter — perhaps now more than ever. With governments at federal and provincial levels apparently intent on controlling and minimizing the public’s access to information on public policy, people are taking to print and the Internet more and more to tell us what they think.

And that’s a good thing.

It’s why this page you’re reading exists.

It’s why we’ve expanded our Letters to the Editor section and why on stories on our website, there’s a place where readers can post and share opinions.

And people are taking the opportunity to have their say. We get dozens of letters to the editor each week and hundreds of online comments posted every day.

Some things you agree with; some you don’t.

And that’s good, too.

An idle minute spent surfing the Internet reveals buckets of opinions on opinion.

Mark Twain once said, “The public is the only critic whose opinion is worth anything at all.”

Winston Churchill quipped: “There is no such thing as public opinion. There is only published opinion.”

Those were their opinions — feel free to disagree.

And that’s the point.

But while opinion matters, and while you have a fundamental right to express yours, there are responsibilities, too.

Unfortunately, those responsibilities can get lost amid the freedom and ease the Internet has granted people to express themselves.

This newspaper often gets criticized by readers for not posting the web comments they made on a story on our website or for not printing a particular letter to the editor.

We’re accused of censorship, partisanship, bias, of denying this or that person their right to freely express their opinion.

Not true.

Here’s another quote: “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it.” — Voltaire.

We don’t deny people the right to express their opinions but we do recognize the responsibilities that go with that right.

We don’t often reject comments on our website — maybe a half-dozen out of the 100-plus we get each day. And almost without exception the reason for not publishing them is because they were defamatory or libellous or derogatory to such a degree as to render them unpublishable.

Read the fine print on our website: “We ask that users remain courteous. You may not post insulting, discriminatory or inappropriate content, which may be removed at our discretion.”

A recent cartoon by cartoonist/digital artist Patrick LaMontagne summed it up well — a visibly upset man sitting at a laptop asks, “When did it change to ‘If you can’t anything nice, just say it online.’”

That means you can’t call the freshly-arrested suspect in a robbery case a “crook” or a “criminal” until they have actually been convicted.

You can’t call someone an immoral a--hole, or pitch a racial slur at them just because you disagree with them.

And signing it “anonymous,” or using a pseudonym doesn’t change anything. Defamation is still defamation. A lawsuit is still a lawsuit. Comments on a media website are deemed to have been published, just like something in the newspaper.

Lots of people understand this, but we wish even more readers would remember the responsibility that goes with expressing their opinions.

Because we want your opinions. They matter, and we want to share them with others and get their opinions in response.

Your right to express your opinion is vital, so don’t waste it by giving us no choice but to hit the reject button.

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Comments

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Recent comments

  • Colin Burke
    August 25, 2013 - 16:21

    Absolutely, Mr. Power. I can see a "whisteblower" exposing anonymously some solid reality dangerous to the public, of which his exposing it would result in some actual danger to himself or his livelihood, but that rarely happens here, from what I see. I can conceive of hardly any reason for not taking credit for an opinion one deems creditable unless one is utterly self-effacing and without any slightest tinge at all of vanity; I see no good reason for expressing an opinion which one is ashamed to admit one holds.

  • Cashin Delaney
    August 16, 2013 - 08:48

    TC media pays the piper, put your two cents in and see if it's fit. Also remember that what you post in these comments is public distraction like talk radio. Polarizing points of view put forth within proper decorum with reason and logic, without real emotion. Just remember to use the words maybe, perhaps, suspected or rumored when you fear defamation yet must raise an issue of public weal. Even the independent will limit your word count, and paddy will cut you off, so why try to stuff filler or inject venom here? When Bill Rowe speaks of crooks and such he always follows up with a verbal disclaimer, that's all is need. Maybe The Telegram does itself protest too much and likely hides behind Voltaire and the latitude of courtesy, possibly, to perhaps advance an agenda of seemingly jingoist distraction on important issues concerning our suspected corrupt government? I have no idea.

  • Billy
    August 15, 2013 - 22:32

    The Telegram in my opinion hates the comments section and does a terrible job of letting people have their say hence very few people are leaving comments compared to a couple of years ago..but they are flat out at CBC?

  • Ed Power
    August 15, 2013 - 17:06

    The Opinion section of The Telegram is the one I most frequently read first before heading off into the "hard" news items. One complaint that I do have with the format is the ability of people to hide behind pseudonyms when commenting on the items that appear on the page. How is one to know whether or not the person commenting on a piece is a political hack or paid commenter, like some of our Honourable Members who - while being paid by the taxpayers of the province - have been whipped by their Party Leader to pad the online polls and call-in shows? I think that if one hasn't something to say, and takes the time to comment on a piece that appears in the paper, one should have the courage of his/her convictions and sign their name to it. Otherwise, it is just more digital diarrhea....

    • Pseudonym Rod
      August 16, 2013 - 13:06

      Why would somebody willing to die for freedom of speech use a pseudonym? Should we admire you instead for saying nothing, but being brave in signing the same name as your driver's license? François-Marie Arouet known by his nom de plume, Voltaire, was a French Enlightenment writer, historian and philosopher famous for his wit, his attacks on the established Catholic Church, and his advocacy of freedom of religion, freedom of expression, and separation of church and state. Voltaire was a versatile writer, producing works in almost every literary form, including plays, poems, novels, essays, and historical and scientific works. He wrote more than 20,000 letters and more than 2,000 books and pamphlets. He was an outspoken advocate, despite the risk this placed him in under the strict censorship laws of the time. As a satirical polemicist, he frequently made use of his works to criticize intolerance, religious dogma, and the French institutions of his day.

  • Pierre Neary
    August 15, 2013 - 15:29

    Good editorial. I think the Telegram handles their responsibility of letting people post their opinions here very well.

  • Herb Morrison
    August 15, 2013 - 08:08

    I agree wholeheartedly with the content of this editorial. However, I wonder why restrictions pertaining to the length of, articles or letters submitted to the editor, are applied to some submissions but not to others. Its' the chief reason why I have all but given up submitting either letters to the editor or editorials to the telegram.

  • Stephen D Redgrave
    Stephen D Redgrave
    August 15, 2013 - 06:36

    I could not agree more. I have always found the Telegram to be more attentive to reader submitted material, than any other paper in the Canada (equal in size and population). I am guilty of hitting that "send" button prematurely based on emotion, rather than rational courtesy--but, sadly, there is no 'do over's' on the internet, I'll leave the job of ranting in public to professionals like Rick Mercer. Circumstances should not diminish our civility within humanity.