For the first time in memory, a local media outlet pandered to dirty politics and published advertising which directed personal attacks against several council candidates. The first ad ran the Saturday just before the election, and it did not indicate who placed or paid for it. When the libelled candidates complained to the publisher, they were refused the chance to refute the claims, but the ad was printed again on election day with a correction notice attributing the ad to the "Chatham-Kent Coalition of Concerned Citizens."
No official information could be found about this group, and several suspected members indicated they were not involved with placing the ad, nor were they aware who was even using the group's name to conceal political activities.
Attempts to obtain answers were refused by the media outlet involved. At first, Publisher Jim Blake admitted that they don't hold advertising to the same journalistic standards as editorial content, and he promised a retraction. This soon turned hostile when pressed for the name of whomever placed the ad. "We await correspondence from your solicitor," barked Blake. The editor insisted that, "It was a paid advertisement so it had to run. We had no choice."
Municipal campaign advertising is not regulated to the degree that provincial and federal election advertising is, prompting calls for the media to adhere voluntarily to the highest of standards for all campaigns. Ubiquitous attack ads in the States have to name the person approving them.
"One of the areas of discussions in this campaign was around acountabilty and openness. These standards should also exist for those wanting to be involved in the campaign," commented a re-elected Bill Weaver. "I would call upon all media sources to voluntarily accept the same standards for political advertisements in municipal elections that are in place for higher orders of government. We do not ever need a repeat of these attack ads locally," Weaver continued.
Austin Wright, another attacked candidate stated, "This ad claimed my businesses are closed, which is libel that the publisher could have easily identified by referring to candidate profiles previously printed, or by looking in the phone book and dialing the business number." The publisher's statement that ads are not subject to the same journalistic scrutiny as an editorial is a, "Cop out defending the failure to ensure due diligence," Wright suggested.
"They refused to allow me to refute the claims against me as a candidate, and now they continue to obstruct the truth by refusing to run my paid advertising which merely indicates that I am still in business. This multiplies the damage caused by the initial ads that tripped up my campaign in the final days, which raises the question of what they're trying to hide. It's disturbing to me that one individual can seem to control the media," Wright said, referring to the individual rumoured to have placed the attack ad.
"I intend to litigate, complain to the Ontario Press Council, and lobby the province to update The Municipal Elections Act to make this kind of subversive advertising illegal. But I can't sue a non-existant pseudo-group that has no legal status. Somebody has to step forward and admit liability."
Other affected candidates declined to offer public comments citing legal concerns.