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Freedom of speech ‘barred’

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I thought I was going to be nominating Whistler Councillor Eckhard Zeidler for the Best Actor at an Oscar Party fundraiser last week, but I was shocked to learn he wasn’t acting. His aggressive outburst was the real thing.

I was volunteering at the fundraiser, keeping company with someone whom I am dating, who also happens to be a reporter, when Zeidler approached him.

Zeidler and my friend had only been talking in, what I perceived from a distance, was an amiable conversation tucked away in the corner of the bar earlier on in the evening.

This second conversation was very different, so much so that I thought Zeidler was play acting his aggression towards my friend – a well known political lefty and righty poking humour at their obvious differences.

There were threats of lost advertising revenue to a local newspaper in raised tones, and all the while Zeidler spat the words out about an inch from the reporter’s face.

At first amused by what I thought was a feigned dramatic display, I stepped back to take a picture of Whistler’s own movie saga. However, in raising my camera, Zeidler swung his arm around his firing pigeon, flashed a plastic smile and then resumed his face-to-face stance. I realized his over-the-top communication was not meant to entertain, but intimidate.

A number of concerns arose for me, not in my role as a girlfriend, but as a fellow writer and Whistler resident.

First and foremost, why is one of Whistler’s councillors confronting a reporter in a bar setting and using both aggressive posturing and verbal volume to do so?

This Resort Municipality of Whistler official communicated his concerns in an entirely unprofessional manner, and at a local community fundraiser no less. I am not saying he is not entitled to his feelings, but I question his conduct.

With high profile jobs such as a councillor position, how he or she conducts him or herself, in and out of council chambers, directly reflects on the town they represent. In a small town, it’s hard because there is always someone watching, but Zeilder’s lack of professionalism in the way he communicated raised concerns for me about the kind of man who is making decisions that affect my life as a Whistler resident.

The incident also brought into question the crossing over of newspaper employees as both columnists and reporters. The reporter at the end of Zeidler’s discontent wrote extremely charged political attacks on Mayor Ken Melamed. As a columnist, I believe this is the writer’s right. A column is meant to interject personal ideas and the format ensures the reader is well aware the column is an opinion piece, not an objective viewpoint. However, if a columnist is taking a one-sided view on local politics and then writing about it as a reporter, a red flag should be going up – not for the reader, but instead for the editor who controls the copy. Of course council is going to draw into question the ability of a slanted columnist to be an objective reporter.

Now I realize the statement is hypocritical as a reporter writing this column, however I don’t think musicians will be up in arms over my objectivity in writing about bands.

Freedom of speech was infringed on in this attack when Zeidler brought up loss of ad revenue if the columnist/reporter didn’t back off his anti-Melamed agenda. Does a councillor have the right to dictate what a paper can or cannot write?

The controversial cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad published in this month’s Western Standard Magazine – ironically in the same issue where an article questions Melamed’s stance on the 2010 Athletes Village development – has instigated a lot of global media attention in regards to freedom of speech. Maybe the issue hits closer to home than we think.

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