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.
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.