Media and PR ethics in Hamilton
Prior to the announcement on March 26 of a $100,000, two-year project in collaboration with researchers at McMaster, the HSR posted a photo on their Twitter featuring their management team. This photo had the group of seven people, not including the photographer, at the back of a bus stating they were headed to the university.
The question remains how they managed to find a significant amount of space at the back of a bus heading to McMaster in the middle of the day. It appears to be a brand new bus that is not in service yet, and was specifically used for the team to stage a photo op.
During a live stream with CBC Hamilton about eight hours later, the leaders of the HSR were asked, “When’s the last time you took the HSR?” Dan McKinnon, the general manager of public works, replied, “As a matter of fact, we took the bus to the announcement today.”
It is unsurprising and disappointing that management is unwilling to take the service they provide, but the disingenuous and tone-deaf PR is a new and unfortunate development.
CBC Hamilton’s article on the announcement contained, “The HSR management team travelled to and from the university campus by bus.” While this is all technically true, it does not reveal everything the public should know or question.
On March 21, Graeme MacKay, an editorial cartoonist for the Hamilton Spectator, posted a comic that would appear in the March 22 issue. The topic was about Service Canada and their policy for employees to use gender-neutral or gender-inclusive language. Critics on social media immediately began to criticize the comic for being tone-deaf, shameful and transphobic.
MacKay then doubled down with comments such as advising people to write a letter to the editor demanding it while adding, “Don’t forget to call it hate, as you’ve already declared it is and in the process belittling real hate where it actually exists,” and “I guess I hit a nerve under a very very thin layer of skin.”
The Hamilton Spectator has made no major comment at the time of writing. However, they have published opinion pieces in response to the comic such as, “Tone-deaf cartoon made a mockery of LGBTQI2S+ community struggles,” and multiple letters to the editor under, “Editorial cartoon draws fire, counter hate with reason and other letters to the editor.”
We had our own ethics consideration for this Silhouette issue, and a good portion of this was to help answer any questions about how McMaster students may perceive it.
We raised a fairly significant red flag after receiving the image that now appears on the back cover. After a bit of coordination and back-and-forth about the source, the clarification came about that this is from the Legislative Assembly of Ontario.
This is a legitimate avenue as part of their guidelines for the MPP to communicate with the constituents in the riding to inform them of government news, policies, programs and any initiatives that impact the immediate community. It is not paid for with funds from a political organization. It is not classified as political advertisement.
We also reached out and double-checked ethics standards with the National NewsMedia Council. This is a self-regulatory ethics body for English-language news in Canada that we joined earlier this academic year, which includes other organizations such as the National Post, the Globe and Mail and the Canadian Press.
In addition, we also discussed guidelines and recommendations for standard political advertisements to better prepare us for the provincial and municipal elections that take place within the next few months.
With all of these examples, there should be expectations of how organizations conduct themselves. These are instances of where the foundation of your values and ethics are tested and may be put on display for the public to judge and criticize.
These cases and examples throughout the year do occur from time to time whether it entails biases and spin, a lack of clarity in reporting, an alternative way to deal with controversy, varying levels of transparency or a multitude of other factors that could influence the situation.
While I cannot speak in depth about the mindset or processes of other organizations, I can safely say that we have covered our bases. You should expect your sources of information to do their homework when it comes to things like this, to hold themselves accountable and to keep the interests and potential questions their readership has in mind.
Efforts and explanations like this, previous editorials about the Silhouette and the reopening of reader feedback have all in an effort for transparency and eliminating any confusion possible between you and us. For now, I can safely say that any considerations or questions about media ethics on our end have already happened, either in bursts like this or periodically throughout the year at regular meetings with other stakeholders on campus, and will continue to happen as we transition into the staff for the next academic year.