THE Wilma Wright controversy has opened up a debate on what is fair when it comes to public criticism of elected officials.
The Standard offers several ways for its readers to engage.
There is an SMS line for texts to the editor, a comment section on the internet, Facebook and Twitter pages — all of which allow anonymous comments — and the more traditional letters to the editor section which requires submissions to have a numerical street address and phone number.
Many media organisations include anonymous commentary from readers and listeners which is generally moderated. The Australian Press Council says this method of feedback is accepted practice but it must adhere to the usual principles of fairness and accuracy.
During an election, the Local Government Act states that authors must be identified if the material contains information concerning an electoral matter.
Warrnambool City councillor Andrew Fawcett has been a vocal opponent of anonymous texts to the editor.
“We’ve had four years of being abused by certain people who don’t put their name in the paper. In all fairness, we should know who is bad-mouthing us,” Cr Fawcett said.
“It’s very cowardly.”
Mayor Jacinta Ermacora yesterday released a statement saying the letter penned under the name Wilma Wright was “but one example of many anonymous criticisms published by The Standard against members of our community including council and councillors”.
“Maybe it’s time for all comments, whether online or in print, to be clearly identified as to their author,” Cr Ermacora said. “It’s obvious from The Standard’s online comments, particularly during the two-month election period, that anonymous comments foster a nasty atmosphere that does not reflect the positivity and strength of our city.”
Cr Rob Askew agreed. “I’m calling for The Standard to now reveal the identities in texts to the editor of The Ratepayer, Robin Hood and the Warrnaboolian.”
“They have had numerous swipes at councillors and it’s time their identities were revealed too,” Cr Askew said.
Cr John Harris said if all comments contained names it would “probably stop a lot of stabbing in the back”.
Cr Mike Neoh said there were “plenty of comments made in text talk that are a lot harsher than those made in the letter to the editor”. “The media have been a marketing tool for various candidates and I’m not going to specify which ones.”
Steve Kelly, the editor of The Standard, said in the age of social media newspaper websites provided the community with an important and crucial forum for freedom of speech.
“It is a ludicrous notion to suggest that all online commentators be identified,’’ he said. ‘‘That would be the end of Twitter and all other forms of social media.
‘‘Moderated, anonymous social-media commentary allows for a degree of free speech that might not otherwise find a voice.’’
Mr Kelly said if a person believed they had been defamed by an anonymous online post they could seek redress through the courts.
‘‘All levels of government would love to be able to control their media,’’ Mr Kelly said. ‘‘I think it irritates the hell out of them that they can’t.’’