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Saturday, January 14, 2012

Prohibiting Employees From Signing Petitions Should be a Crime

The November 27, 2011 Janesville Gazette print newspaper contained an editorial titled "Sacrificing some rights come with the territory," where the editor went on to explain that the company's policy forbids them from signing the recall petition.

JG editorial excerpt:
More important, we're professionals who leave our politics at the door when we come to work. That said, several newsroom employees asked me if our ethics policy prohibited them from signing the recall petition.

Without hesitation, I answered yes.

Here's what our policy says about political activities: Staffers may not be involved in political campaigns or activities. Avoid outward demonstrations of support for candidates or causes, such as yard signs or buttons.

Okay, I'm going to stray here for a bit. "We're professionals who leave our politics at the door when we come to work," BUT can they pick up their politics off the coat hanger when they walk out the door? Apparently not.

Though the editor thinks his journalists can set their politics aside, his biggest worry seems to come from concerns over us dumb clucks in the public and our obviously wrong perception of media bias. I mean, my God. What would the world think if someone found out that Janesville Gazette employees signed the Recall Walker petition?

The editorial finishes...

JG editorial excerpt:
Our credibility is our most cherished asset and we need to protect it with every decision we make.

Whoa! THAT coming from a newspaper that proudly published political endorsements of McCain/Palin, Scott Walker, Ron Johnson, Paul Ryan, JB Van Hollen, Tyler August, Evan Wynn, Amy Loudenbeck and David Prosser AND whose boss is on the board of directors of the WMC. In addition, immediately to the right of this particular "concern over credibility" editorial in the newsprint copy was the paper's twice-a-week "Sound off" column of politically charged statements, claims and rants, all vetted to be officially "anonymous."

And, he's worried about the perception of media bias and credibility?

But far more important is the idea that if a media company is within their legal rights to forbid their employees from signing petitions, any company can do the same. This is a democratic republic right? Land of the free, home of the brave and all that jazz. Oh never mind.

Of equal interest now is a bill authored by Rep. Evan Wynn that would make it a felony to induce someone to sign a recall petition by offering anything of value in exchange for a signature. "Mind-boggling is the only word to describe this legalized bribery," Wynn writes.

What about inducements not to sign? How about when a private entity, business or individual, either by written policy or verbal command, prohibits a person against their own free will from signing a petition by holding something of value like their job, paycheck or the fear of a written reprimand in the employment record over their heads? That too is mind-boggling and legalized blackmail. It is un-American.


Democurmudgeon said...

This is a full frontal attack on rights. I am amazed any company has that kind of power. Great point.

Anonymous said...

Lou, the original bill from Wynn was later modified to read "Sign or refrain from signing a recall petition." Don't know how it will effect employers like the Gazette though, since employees might have to sign those rights away when they agree to employment.

Lou Kaye said...

Thanks John.

Anon, Thanks for providing the update. I still think the door is wide open for employers to prohibit their employees from signing any petition. Employers could in effect wipe out the entire petition process or any political or democratic process simply by making prospective employees sign away those rights for a job. Corporations are this far [ ] from ruling the planet. We’ll have to see how this all pans out but our democracy and republic is in serious trouble.

Richard Costerisan said...

Don't forget Lou, they endorsed Terry Holder (fake candidate)over Jenifer Keach for Rock County Coroner. As a smack-down, Jenifer got 97% of the vote in the general election. So much for that endorsement!

Anonymous said...

This is unbelieveable....but not a surprise.

Anonymous said...

We must be brave and fight corporate power every step of the way (right now)....if we do not our rights will perish quickly.

Michael Krueger said...

Endorsing a candidate is not media bias. It's Good Janesville journalism.

Anonymous said...

I cancelled my subscription to the Gazette well over a year ago. As a teacher in Janesville I'm fed up with their views.

J.R. said...

In a somewhat related story, employees at the Minneapolis HQ of US Bancorp were specifically told not to engage with the #Occupy protest, "For their safety." At least one person has lost their job for refusing to obey this gag order. So (heh, heh) we took the protest to them by holding "mic check" events in the public spaces around the bank at lunch and after work.

How is it possible that an employer can dictate the political beliefs and activities of an employee? This has GOT to be illegal, and it's going to take a loud and noisy lawsuit from some brave soul to start to fix it.

Anonymous said...

As someone who worked in newspaper journalism 10 years ago, this is a no-brainer to me. Journalists are afforded special dispensation to advance free speech and that comes with a price. Irrespective of whether my paper had a policy against this, I steered clear of ANY hint of political activity, because it's just downright humiliating to try to cover something after you've made public your stance on it.

It's your reputation on the line, and traditionally that reputation is already fragile given the hideous attacks on media figures for being "biased." Putting your bias on display makes you vulnerable to even more of that crap - and it's your own fault.

Let me ask those of you whining over "free speech" rights - how far should this go? Can a reporter serve as director of a political movement and still be perceived as an objective news-gatherer?

Ridiculous. There are many professions that limit the display of political leanings, and if anyone in those professions violated that canon, one of these reporters would be the first to zero in on him. Hypocrisy is so unattractive.

Anonymous said...

This the same as saying an employee cannot vote.No matter how someone spins this, the employer does not have the right.

Lou Kaye said...

Anon 8:29, why not let the reporter's free will and the "free markets" dictate whether a reporter can serve as director of a political movement and still be perceived as an objective news-gatherer? I'm certain readers and subscribers would let that journalist or newspaper know right away. Better than being punished by the employer or fellow journalists.

J.R, your story is completely related. The main point here other than the media bias issue is that there are apparently no laws preventing employers from creating employee canon signing those rights away to gain employment. The peoples last recourse is often through individual political action, petition or referendum and if corporations can take it away - we have nothing. Corporations have no need for petitions or any other purest forms of democracy.

Anonymous said...

How about allowing Jay Mielke, a broadcast engineer with Bliss Communication's WCLO, having unobstructive access to Tim Bremel's "YOUR" Talk Show whenever they wish to use WCLO's airwaves to advocate/force their conservative crap to southern Wisconsin listeners. Mr. Mielke happens to be Rock County Republican Party Chairman....paid by Bliss Communications....on company spew the Republican viewpoints....unchallenged by the host or callers. How is this ethical....let alone consistant with the Bliss Corporate policy mandateing "NO POLITICAL ACTIVITY" by its employees? Sounds VERY illegal to me....or at least a "conflict of interest", at best!

Anonymous said...

>> This the same as saying an employee cannot vote. <<

Really? So if an Office Depot employee wanted to wear a Staples shirt to work and was told he couldn't, that's the same as being denied the right to vote?

Don't be ridiculous.

Anonymous said...

An employer's handbook or ethics policy should have no power or control over an employee's conduct or activity off the clock and property of the employer. We talk about Big Government controlling our lives? What about Big Business?

Anonymous said...

Hey Anonymous @ 12:06:

No, your analogy is flawed. Violating the dress code is NOT the same as threatening an individual's job for exercising their voting rights.

Anonymous said...

As a Federal employee the regulations state that we must remain impartial and neutral in all activities and attire. The key to this statement is the regulation applies to while on the job. The Federal Govt. cannot dictate your political activities in your personal life. This holds true providing you are not acting in an unlawful manner, or acting/speaking in a manner that implies you are representing the Federal Govt. A journalist reports the news of the day, community etc..Impartial writing is just that showing both sides of an issue which can be done by using the facts presented and keeping personal opinions out. That is the mark of a good journalist basing a story on research of the facts not supposition. The Janesville Gazette is wrong, you do not have to give up your rights because you write for a newspaper. If the JG has oversite of the employees personal lives then the employees should be on the payroll 24/7. This is not North Korea or Communist China this is the USA.

Anonymous said...

News-side journalists, the reporters and analysts--those who have no roots in opinion-writing--should always avoid the appearance of bias. They carry an ethical obligation to the public, who expects, deserves and trusts journalists will inform them without injecting their own partisan or personal bias. In terms of objectivity, no journalist can cut any issue or story exactly down the middle. But if a news reporter has their name signed to a petition, then their they've created an indelible public statement of their stance on an issue or a political candidate. It could quite reasonably be perceived as breach of the public trust.

Michael Krueger said...

We don't need their signatures. We have enough and when Scooter is recalled, we can remember the Gazette backed him.

It will be good for the Gazette to die out as the last of its aging subscribers go on to a final resting place. We of the younger generation won't put up with such nonsense.

Maybe when the last nail is in the coffin for the Gazette the editor can ask himself why he didn't present unbiased facts about Scott Walker, his campaign, his funding, his Koch bill that not only got rid of the rights of public employees but allows Scooter to sell our states natural resources and power plants without bids.

Why didn't they ask or report that Scooter had no plans for jobs during his campaign, except not supporting local restaurants by bringing that fictitious brown bag.

Editor...lmao What a joke. Try Captain of a sinking ship.

Lou Kaye said...

Anon 1:02 PM, People making the effort to seek out names on a petition are not necessarily biased toward the signers, as it can cut both ways when names sought are not found on the petitions. That too creates an indelible public statement for those who did not sign. Holding a position of “no position” is perfectly fine if it’s done by your own free will and not imposed by a third party looking out for their own interests. The Gazette editors and owner are delusional if they think they can endorse political candidates, publish political editorials, participate in a politically active organization such as the WMC, post political statements in a anonymous publishing gimmick and then pretend like none of it should impact their product so long as they maintain a strict ethics policy barring their newsroom employees from the same.

I also find it a very convenient for a media company to differentiate between opinion and news-side journalists and expect the public to fully understand and respect that. Again, separate from the bias issue which is mostly mostly a media conflict is the larger concern of corporate overreach into the private lives and rights of the employees.

Richard Costerisan said...

These are very good comments Lou. It's clear some folks just don't understand what the Constitutional freedoms in The Bill of Rights is all about.

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