Open letters policy presents challenge

Published 11:36 am Wednesday, November 29, 2000

Advance Columnist
I've always believed an open dialogue is a good thing.
Many of our founding principles are based on that idea. It's better to bring issues out into the open than to sweep them under a rug.
Newspapers across the country design editorial pages with this idea in mind. Editorial pages serve as a forum for individuals in a community to express their opinions. Opposing positions create a dialogue both in the newspaper and among members of a community.
Most newspapers, including The Advance, work to maintain an open letters policy. This policy is designed to allow all individuals to express an opinion and not just a select few.
Some letters are easy to publish. They thank communities for the efforts in raising needed funds or acknowledge the efforts of groups and individuals for their work in serving local communities.
Other letters present more of a challenge for editors and news staffs. Many times letters are presented that point out a need or a problem in a community. They often present an opposing opinion.
The challenge for an editor or news staff is to remain objective. We may not agree with the contents of a particular letter but right or wrong everyone has a right to their opinion.
We faced a situation recently at The Advance in which two members of our community felt we were unethical for printing a particular letter written by an Advance employee. Not that it would have changed our decision to publish the letter but to set the record straight, the author wasn't employed at The Advance when the letter was printed.
This situation begs the question, where do you draw the line? When do you decide not to publish a letter?
Our open letters policy dictates that we publish any letter that is not libelous. Doing so without bias protects the integrity of the editorial page.
We require the author of the letter to sign it and provide a telephone number so we can verify who wrote the letter.
We require the author's name to publish along with the letter. Publishing anonymous letters and comments opens the door for individuals to make comments without taking responsibility for what they say.
We reserve the right to edit letters for newspaper style, grammar and spelling, but every effort is made to maintain the precise meaning and tone of the letter.
The letters which appear in The Advance are written when an individual takes the initiative to do so.
We may offer the opportunity to write a letter or suggest that someone express an opinion in letter form, but we never solicit letters on a particular topic and would never force our opinion or views on an individual's self expression.
My response to your question about our ethics is simple.
The decision to publish the letter in question wasn't an ethical dilemma. If you didn't like or agree with what was said, that is your right. However, to deny an individual the right to express an opinion on a topic in which they are involved is, in my opinion, censorship.

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