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Why the Local Newspaper Refuses to Publish Our Side of the Story

Earlier this week, Sahtlam Neighbourhood Association (SNA) president Isabel Rimmer paid a visit to the offices of the Cowichan Valley Citizen. Frustrated with their one-sided coverage of the Vancouver Island Motorsport Circuit (VIMC) issue, Dr. Rimmer asked three simple questions:

(1) "Will the Citizen ever write a balanced article about our issue?"

Answer: "No"

(2) "If I write a Letter to the Editor refuting the most recent article about the [VIMC] acoustical study, will you publish it?"

Answer: "No".

(3) "Will you sell us a full page ad to get our message out?"

Answer: "Likely not. I'll have to ask my boss."

Dr. Rimmer was told these orders came from "higher up" and were due to the fact that the German Auto Import Network (GAIN) - a group of high-end car dealerships and principal operator of VIMC - is a major advertising customer. Apparently, when reporter Robert Barron broke the story last July of noise complaints arising from the newly opened motorsport circuit, GAIN responded by pulling their ads from all Black Press publications. Since that time, the Citizen has refused to publish any negative press about VIMC, or any information provided by the SNA to counter the misinformation in their articles.

This revelation came as no surprise to the SNA. We have tried repeatedly to get the local papers to publish our side of the story and have been met with roadblocks and frustration every step of the way. When we presented our report, "Approved as a Permitted Use", to North Cowichan Committee of the Whole on March 23, 2017, we invited reporters from the Duncan Free Press, Times Colonist, and Cowichan Valley Citizen. Only the Duncan Free Press (and its sister paper, the Chemainus Valley Courier) reported on the startling allegations revealed in our presentation that evening. The silence from the Cowichan Valley Citizen was as deafening as that from Mayor and Council. However, the Citizen wasted no time publishing a glowing report of VIMC's presentation to that same committee two weeks later.

Sadly, the Duncan Free Press folded in May, leaving the Citizen as our only local newspaper. But when the SNA filed a lawsuit against VIMC and the Municipality of North Cowichan, we could not get the Citizen to write about it. We even drafted a press release to make it easier for them, but they wouldn't publish that either. They finally relented by publishing three whole sentences on the topic.

In another example of blatant bias, the Citizen's July 18 article about the Porsche launch was loaded with glowing commentary, but failed to mention the daily protests by SNA supporters outside the VIMC gates, or the fact that police were called in by VIMC (and later left, after having to explain to VIMC that the side of the road is not private property). Protesters spoke to several foreign autosports journalists who were shocked to learn that the racetrack was built so close to a residential area and without any noise limits (motorsports noise is heavily regulated in Europe, Australia, and other countries), but none of that information made it into the paper either.

Now that VIMC has applied to rezone their properties and expand their racetrack to almost triple its current size, public opinion matters more than ever. The campaign of misinformation has resumed in earnest, with the Cowichan Valley Citizen continuing to serve as a willing platform for VIMC.

The latest Citizen article, published on August 11, 2017, reports that an internationally renowned German acoustics team concluded that noise coming from VIMC is "within acceptable limits". There is so much misleading information in this article that it will require a blog post of its own to dissect it (stay tuned!). Suffice it to say the story is no different than the Citizen article published last year about the Wakefield Acoustics "study" (which we debunked in a previous blog post). Once again, VIMC has cherry-picked data from quiet track activities, spinning it as evidence that residents' noise complaints are unfounded. Interestingly, this latest Citizen article has not yet appeared online. Perhaps they are weary of opening themselves up to public comments given the backlash that followed previous articles as residents called the paper out on their blatantly biased reporting.

As an organization of volunteers and ordinary citizens, we try our best to inform the public about the important land use and noise pollution issues surrounding VIMC. This blog and our Facebook Page are the best tools we have available to spread word of our plight to citizens of the Cowichan Valley, but we recognize that many residents still rely on good-old-fashioned newspapers to stay informed about local issues. The fact that the Cowichan Valley Citizen will publish anything VIMC wants while deliberately keeping us out of the picture - and that this all boils down to advertising dollars - is not only frustrating, it is deeply troubling in its implications for their reporting on other topics.

As the public consultation process for the rezoning application begins, and with a public hearing looming ahead, it is more important than ever that citizens get all the facts. Please share this article, encourage your friends and neighbours to subscribe to our blog, and let people know that the Cowichan Valley Citizen cannot be trusted to report the truth on this important issue.

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