Letters to the editor may be last bastion of freedom of speech

Letters to the editor are an interesting feature of a newspaper.

They are a component of a newspaper that goes back a long way. They were, at one time, prior to the digital age, the only way to provide readers’ feedback on stories in the paper and issues out there in the community. That’s besides using the telephone and a voice. A loud voice.

Letters are an opportunity to provide a diversity of voices in the paper on various issues.

Nowadays, readers can provide feedback on stories literally immediately, if they’re read online. We provide space for commentary using Facebook at the end of just about every story.

We also post stories onto Facebook and people can – and do – comment about them right then and there.

I find that the variety of immediate commenting opportunities has kind of killed the letter to the editor, somewhat – in this community anyway. People can comment right away and so that precludes the need to write out a letter and then email it to the editor.

As a result, I believe, our letters to the editor have tailed off, although it does seem to fluctuate. I do, however, believe that printing letters begets more letters.

But this column was prompted by a comment on Facebook regarding a letter to the editor we ran and which points to a common misconception about letters.

It prompted a critical comment on Facebook about it but it also included the question of why does the Campbell River Mirror run such garbage? That’s almost a direct quote.

So, I’m going to explain why the Campbell River Mirror runs such garbage.

Letters to the editor is a forum where readers can express their opinions. Letters are the opinion of the letter writer. They’re not the paper’s opinion.

Now, it may not be an opinion you agree with but the whole point of the opinion material in a newspaper is to generate discussion about issues and allow all sides to air their views.

As long as they don’t transgress our commenting standards, and the community’s, we are obligated to run them. To not run them would be biased.

That would suppress a certain point of view and, in general, this newspaper, like most others, is opposed to that sort of thing.

If that offends you, then keep in mind how offensive it would be if we didn’t run your letter because “we didn’t agree with it.” Right?

It’s not about what I believe or what “the paper” believes. People need to really get that idea entrenched when they evaluate opinion material in the paper and on its website.

There’s a general intolerance for opposing points of view that pervades society these days, particularly on social media.

But remember those old sayings: “It’s a free country.” “This is a democracy.” “I have the right to express my point of view.” “Freedom of speech.”

As old fashioned as they are, those sayings still guide the letters to the editor. That’s why we run “that garbage.” We may not want to but we have to be fair.