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Get out and vote!–even if you are a journalist

Posted by padams under Election 2008, Election 2008 Campaign strategy, Election 2008 Media commentary

Paul Adams

I just went and voted and am happy to report that there was a line-up: not because people forgot their ID, but just because plenty of folks in my neighbourhood seem keen to get in and vote as soon as they can.

There has been a debate in the past among journalists about whether they should vote at all. To my knowledge the most prominent journalist to say in public that he does not vote as a matter of journalistic practice is CBC-TV’s Don Newman. The idea is that a journalist should be above party and that no clearer statement could be made of his or her refusal to takes sides in the political debate than to decline the ballot.

I have a lot of respect for Don, who recently won the Gordon Sinclair award for his contribution to Canadian journalism — to be awarded at the Geminis in a few days. He richly deserves the honour.

But I will respectfully disagree with him on this point. Journalists, especially political journalists, are privileged to be among the most informed potential voters in the country. While we should take care in our journalistic work to separate our personal views from our coverage, it would be far-fetched to suppose that we don’t develop views on specific policies, parties and leaders. A journalist insufficiently engaged in the debates of the hour probably wouldn’t be much of a journalist to be truthful. But what journalists need is the humility to be the vehicle for many different voices to express themselves and be heard, even if they differ from our own views.

In my experience. some people can be very opinionated without ever voting; and others can be a model of journalistic probity and balance while conscientiously voting in every election.

I don’t think that journalists should reveal how they vote, any more than they should make a big deal about their religious beliefs, for example. Personally, I am proud to say that while I have voted in every election I could since becoming a journalist, but I have never revealed how I voted (except one or twice to my wife). When friends or colleagues have guessed at how I voted, they have, I am happy to say, been more often wrong than right. I honestly believe that most people could not discern how I would vote from reading my copy or watching my news reports, and that’s the way I like it.

There was a time in this country when judges were not allowed to vote and public servants were severely restricted in their expression of political views away from the workplace. That has changed, as it should. We are all citizens, and citizenship brings responsibilities as well as privileges

I have been lucky enough to watch people in other countries vote for the first time in democratic elections, and was inspired by how seriously they counted this privilege. I have often felt disappointed at the degree to which Canadians take this privilege for granted. 

We don’t cease to be citizens when we become journalists. We do take on a professional duty to be circumspect in the expression of our views. 

So get out and vote –even if you are a journalist!

Paul Adams is a former political reporter with the CBC and the Globe and Mail, and is now a member of Carleton’s journalism faculty, and executive director of EKOS Research Associates.