click image for a link to the Discourse article
When investigative journalist Jacqueline Ronson asked Cowichan residents which local news topic they wanted to see her dive into, the winner was the Vancouver Island Motorsport Circuit (VIMC) and their controversial plans to triple the size of their race track.
Ronson spent several months researching the subject, but she quickly focussed in on the story we reported last year about the Cowichan Valley Citizen. In that blog post, we asserted that the Cowichan's only local newspaper refuses to provide fair coverage of our neighbourhood's ongoing battle with VIMC because the GAIN group, a network of luxury car dealerships who operate VIMC, are the paper's biggest advertiser.
As part of her investigation, Ronson performed an audit of GAIN's newspaper advertising. She found a mysterious four-month disappearance of the automotive group's ads from the Citizen and at least two other Island-based papers owned by the Black Press group. This gap happened to coincide with the revelation that VIMC had built an off-road course without any permits, which was reported by Robert Barron for the Citizen.
In a separate Discourse article, Ronson created a timeline of events that reveals the strong connection between GAIN pulling their ads and things heating up between VIMC and the SNA. It also shows quite clearly how the Citizen subsequently ignored stories picked up by other media, including our damning report on how the track was quietly approved as a permitted use on a split-zoned property and sexual harassment claims against a (now-former) VIMC operations manager, not to mention numerous public council meetings on the topic of ongoing noise issues with VIMC.
Ms. Ronson's articles underscore the importance of a free press and the apparent lack of investigation that goes into news articles published in our local newspapers. For example, the problems with VIMC go far beyond excessive and intrusive race car noise. The process by which this facility was allowed to be built without any public consultation or noise mitigation was deeply flawed and marked by numerous inconsistencies with respect to zoning bylaws, but the Citizen refused to comment despite a damning report presented by the SNA at municipal hall. Instead, the Citizen blindly parrots misrepresentations by VIMC about adhering to noise bylaws and standards that don't actually exist, flawed acoustical studies designed and paid for by VIMC, and continual referrals to economic benefits for Cowichan while maintaining a revolving door of low-wage employees. edited *
edited * While it may be true that papers like the Citizen cannot survive if advertising clients like GAIN decide to take their dollars and go home, one has to question whether what's left is worth the paper it's printed on. As the racetrack's rezoning application slowly makes its way to a public hearing, perhaps we need to consider the ethical behaviour of a business, and not just how much money they claim to bring to our Valley, when considering whether they are a good fit.
* certain passages in this article have been removed at the request of Black Press.