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The opinion section, particularly letters to the editor, presents a bit of a conundrum. I frequently receive emails from folks who have an inordinate amount of time on their hands to write letters to newspaper editors and blast them nationwide. These range from religious calls for national repentance to promoting faux meat products. The ones from people with no local connection go directly to the trash about 99.9% of the time.
But what about people who do live here and want to use our pages to promote their viewpoints? That creates a greater challenge as to deciding whether we devote space and ink to publication.
I’m all for open discourse (as long as it remains civil), but there comes a point when we have to make a decision between letting someone freely use this space to share their views (sometimes with ulterior motives like personal profit) or spreading mis- or disinformation to our readers. It can be a hard call to make, and fortunately those calls have been rare.
Let’s say, for example, someone sends in a letter promoting the benefit of smoking cigarettes. They may even have sources to cite they found on the internet or saw on TV or read in a book. Just because they believe it, are we obligated to publish it, despite masses of contrary evidence, in the name of “free speech”? We don’t believe we are. In fact, we are convinced that doing so may well do more harm than good, and thereby is a violation of journalistic ethics and integrity.
By NIKI TURNER – firstname.lastname@example.org