Now more than ever

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This is a particularly exciting issue for us here at the Times. This is National Newspaper Week, and all the members of the Ontario Community Newspaper Association [OCNA] and NewsMedia Canada are taking this opportunity of reminding Canadians how important a free press is in a democratic society.

see who’s reading the North Grenville Times

Terms like “Fake News”, blatant denials of facts, and even referring to the press as “Enemies of the People”, are all too common these days, and only serve to spread confusion and anger. The fact is that local newspapers are still the main source of local news for Canadians – more than TV, radio or even social media platforms.

The Times has the motto “The Voice of North Grenville” printed on every issue, and that means, not that we claim to be that voice, but that the paper and on-line elements are the place where the people of North Grenville (and Merrickville-Wolford) can make their voices heard. It is not just the Editor that can express an opinion in these pages – everyone can, as can be seen week after week in the Letters section, as well as in the many articles written by citizens and neighbours.

After almost six years of the Times (and eight years of the monthly Newsletter before that), I am still impressed by how interested the people of our community are on hearing about what’s going on. Whether it’s politics, fundraising events, community and social meetings, local history, or just reading the classifieds, people want to keep up with what’s happening around them. We care about our community, and we need a forum in which we can read, write, complain and praise: a way to express our common identity.

And we cannot be too complacent, even in this amazing municipality. Perhaps it was the influence of demagogues south of the border, or maybe it was simply an arrogance native to those who live in a political bubble, but we had our own version of “Enemy of the People” this year. Three of those seeking to be re-elected to Council signed a letter stating that this paper had a policy which “threatens the democratic rights of the people of North Grenville”. They also stated, quite categorically, that it was “unacceptable” for the voters and taxpayers, the citizens of North Grenville to criticise them by questioning the professional competence of council and staff. It was wrong to ridicule them, no matter how ridiculous they might behave at times. “It is therefore unacceptable for anyone to subject Councillors and/or staff to insults, derision or other derogatory comments.”

Now David Gordon, Barb Tobin and Frank Onasanya may not really believe what was written. They actually used our tax money to have a lawyer write the letter for them. But they signed it. To be honest, I still have no idea what sparked that attack on all of us, but it does speak to the attitude elected representatives can develop towards the press and the people. It also underlines the importance of maintaining a free press, even in as civilised a place as North Grenville.

We have been overwhelmed by the willingness of people in our community to join us in declaring their support for newspapers. The number of photographs in this issue show how important a free press is to all of us. Thank you very much to all those who provided these photographs: they are deeply appreciated, believe me. I should note that Jim Bertram is the only local politician to be featured, and that is simply because he refused to have anything to do with the infamous letter. We thought that deserved an exception in his case.

Every society has its community standards, but these should not be made into rigid rules and regulations to prevent valid criticism, to stop the public knowing what is being done in their own neighbourhoods. There is so much that even a free press cannot report. We cannot, and will not, print anything that cannot be substantiated. There is a great deal wrong in some aspects of North Grenville life, and these are being deliberately kept from publication. This may change in the coming months, and it is vital now more than ever, that local newspapers remain, not only free to publish, report and communicate with readers, but that they remain trustworthy and dependable.

We welcome comment and criticism. I may not like it, but everyone has a voice in the Times. The new Council will be offered space every month to communicate with residents, just as the current Council were. Their willingness to make use of that space perhaps speaks to how important they think such communication really is in a democracy.

We have not heard enough from our representatives at municipal level. We have too often been dismissed with comments about gag orders and confidentiality. North Grenville deserves better. Now, more than ever.

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