BEYOND THE HEADLINES: Public vs. private

Richard Rolke talks about news or if it is news when something happens to an official outside of elected office

Akbal Mund was extremely gracious last week as the media questioned him over allegations that he failed to comply with the Income Tax Act.

In a past life, the situation wouldn’t have garnered headlines, but that all changed last November when Mund was elected mayor of Vernon. Acknowledging that the media has a job to do, he was as open as he could be given legal proceedings are underway. He returned phone calls and didn’t go into hiding.

But not everyone was so understanding.

No sooner did reports come out about Mund’s encounter with the taxman and people began to react.

“People are so quick to judge. He doesn’t owe anything, he was just late filing his tax form a couple of years ago. Give him a break,” said one resident on Facebook.

Some took direct aim at the media for the coverage.

“I am really disappointed with The Morning Star for putting this on the front page. Akbal Mund has done incredible things for the city and this does not warrant attention – especially in the paper and on the front page no less,” said another Facebook writer.

“They should feel really ashamed and I resent the person who made the decision to make it news.”

However, others came to the defence of the media.

“He has chosen to be a public representative, who under oath, has agreed to represent the City of Vernon. He put himself in this place,” said another Facebook comment.

“I am not agreeing or disagreeing on the validity of this news story. It simply is a fact, which the local media has discovered.”

Now, there’s no question that the media, including myself, needs to be accountable for its actions and what we choose to elevate to the status of being newsworthy.

Making that judgement call is challenging, particularly when dealing with individuals in elected office.  Where does their public profile end and their private life start? It’s a question I wrestle with given that reporters also develop a public identity.

Whether right or wrong, the rule of thumb generally is that separating public and private life is impossible. People are elected largely because of who they are as an individual. Something that appears to be out of character comes as a surprise, such as a premier being arrested for impaired driving while on a vacation.

Business and community experience is presented as an asset while out on the campaign trail, which sets an expectation among voters.

What if the media didn’t report on such legal cases? We would be accused of using our personal relationships with politicians (and those do exist after spending years together) to cover things up. Or, there would be suggestions that we’re asleep at the wheel and don’t actually know what’s going on in the community. Both of those scenarios unfolded when an actual scandal involving tax dollars enveloped Vernon city hall years ago.

The bottom line to remember at this point is that Mund is only facing allegations, nothing has been proven in court and the case does not involve tax dollars or his role as mayor.

For us in the media, we will continue to debate what should be news and hopefully we will act as fairly as possible.

But in the end, our role is to provide information. What is done with those details in terms of forming opinions, is ultimately up to you.