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Statement regarding claim of illegal campaign advertising

Screen capture of Cathy Berkhout-Bosse's Facebook post regarding a story she asserts is a "Third-Party" election ad. VOICE GRAPHIC

 

BY VOICE STAFF

Cathy Berkhout-Bosse, a Niagara realtor and sister-in-law to Pelham Mayor David Augustyn, has inaccurately stated the Voice is placing “Third Party” election advertising on Facebook.

In fact, as Berkhout-Bosse should know, given her own experience on Facebook managing her “myPelham” business-to-business newsletter, the Voice is promoting its own brand on Facebook, nothing more.

Facebook offers commercial pages the opportunity to promote themselves. These promotions typically appear in users’ newsfeeds labelled as “sponsored” content.

In a post to Facebook made on Monday, October 1, Berkhout-Bosse takes particular exception to a Voice promotion featuring a photograph of a billboard critical of her brother-in-law, David Augustyn, the mayor of Pelham. Augustyn is currently trailing significantly in the polls in his quest to be elected Pelham’s Regional Councillor later this month.

“Elections Ontario regulations on all aspects of the election are something that we take seriously,” said Voice Publisher Dave Burket. “To be accused by a candidate’s family member of illegally placing third-party advertising is absolutely unacceptable. It is particularly ironic in this case, given that some weeks ago we advised a candidate running ads on Berkhout-Bosse’s own website that they did not conform to election advertising requirements.”

The Voice typically promotes two to four posts per week.

In addition to the billboard story, last week the newspaper promoted its weekly Municipal Election Tracking Poll, and an article on a long-closed local high school’s reunion celebration.

So far this week, the paper has promoted its Tracking Poll, and will likely promote at least three more stories, including this one, and a follow-up interview with the Fenwick couple who installed the billboard that is the subject of Berkhout-Bosse’s ire.

The Voice is dismayed by Berkhout-Bosse’s attempt— under the guise of concern over alleged election law violations—to stifle the newspaper’s right to promote its news coverage. The plain fact is that Berkhout-Bosse appears to dislike a news story that involves her brother-in-law. Her misrepresentation of the facts does her, and her family, a disservice.

Berkhout-Bosse did not respond to a request for comment.

 

UPDATE: Some five hours after first posting her allegation, and after responding to a number of supportive comments—including one Facebook user who said that she was filing a complaint against the newspaper with Pelham’s Town Clerk, who administers election law—Berkhout-Bosse deleted her post and comment thread within minutes of the Voice’s response being posted online.  She later posted this explanation:

 

Facebook screen capture. VOICE GRAPHIC

 

UPDATE 2: Comment from Publisher added.

 

UPDATE 3: Town of Pelham letter and statement

On October 4, Town Clerk Nancy Bozzato informed the Voice that she had “been requested by residents of Pelham to look into a ‘sponsored’ advertisement promoted on the Voice of Pelham Facebook page that appears to be in breach of the Third Party Advertising rules as governed by the Municipal Elections Act, 1996….”

Bozzato included a screenshot of the allegedly offending material, which was the same internal Voice promotion about which Berkhout-Bosse complained in her original Facebook post. Bozzato’s entire letter may be found here.

Voice publisher Dave Burket consulted legal counsel, and replied to Bozzato later on October 4.

“Simply because a news story includes an image of a political message,” wrote Burket, “does not make the news story itself—or promotion of the newspaper that carries the story—also a political message. To reach such a conclusion is surely not in accordance with the intent of the Act, nor is it in keeping with the principle of free speech in a democracy.” The Voice’s entire letter may be found here.

Despite repeated requests, neither Bozzato nor Public Relations and Marketing Specialist Marc MacDonald were able to cite specific language in the Act that supported the Town’s contention that the newspaper was in violation.

Here matters rested until October 15, when the Town posted a public statement on its website entitled, “Update on Third Party Advertising violation.” Without naming the Voice, the Town asserted that the newspaper was in violation of the Act by “boosting” its Facebook post containing a link to the billboard story.

“[The] Town Clerk asked that the third party advertisement be removed,” read the statement, “citing the contravention, however the media publication has responded that in their opinion, it was the Clerk who misinterpreted the Act. The Town disagrees.” The Town’s statement may be found here.

(Ironically, the Facebook “boost” had ended, as scheduled, before the Town issued its statement, and was no longer in effect.)

Once again the Voice sought legal counsel, and once again the paper rebutted the Town’s assertion.

Replying on October 15, publisher Dave Burket noted that if paying Facebook to distribute Voice content is a violation of the Act, then so too would be paying the newspaper’s delivery carriers.

“Paying to promote our newspaper on Facebook is no different than paying someone to deliver the newspaper to a customer’s home – getting the newspaper out to readers. Surely paying the newspaper delivery people for their service does not change the nature of the content of the newspaper.” The Voice’s entire letter may be found here.

Again, no response was forthcoming from the Town Clerk.

“The Voice remains confident that it has not acted in contravention of the Act,” says Burket, “and is prepared to defend the rights of a free press in court as may be necessary.”

 

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The Voice of Pelham
Pelham's independent news source from the heart of Niagara.