By Editorial
Arizona Daily Wildcat
November 20, 1997

Decency in discourse

"I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

- Voltaire

Censorship is a dirty word to journalists.

For journalists in America, the First Amendment stands as a great triumph over censorship, allowing the press to serve the public free of government regulation.

In exchange for that freedom, the press is expected to provide balanced and accurate coverage that is inclusive of all points of view.

Sometimes in the news business, though, journalists find themselves in the precarious position of deciding whether or not a specific point of view is worth printing.

The Daily Wildcat grapples with that issue from time to time, when letters to the editor include threats, hate-speech and defamatory insults.

While the Perspectives pages and the Wildcat Online chatboard exist to provide an open forum for discussion of topics important to readers, the Wildcat is ultimately responsible for ensuring that the content stays within the realm of reasonable discourse.

Recent letters posted on the Wildcat Online chatboard have crossed that line, resorting to racist hate speech rather than logic and well-informed opinion.

When letters are stricken from the chatboard, or don't make it into the paper, their authors have claimed that the Wildcat was suppressing their right to expression.

The Wildcat, however, must continue to reflect the ethical standards of the community in order to remain a legitimate source of information.

No newspaper worth its salt shies a way from the tough debates on race, gender and sexual orientation, for example. However, as a forum, the Wildcat and it's online version must insist that the conversation maintains the civility necessary for a real exchange of ideas. Hate-filled rhetoric is neither informative nor constructive.

Only when the community converses in a common language of decency, fairness and openness, can we ever expect to hear each other.


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