Imagine that your neighbor reported you to a news organization as being illegally in possession of marijuana plants in your back yard. Should the news just report that as fact? Should you be accused of a crime based on your neighbor’s word? Should any news organization report on any lead without verifying the facts?

The answer is clearly no.

So when some people raised the question about whether it’s ethical for Curry County Commissioner Chris Paasch to link his own business to the county website, what is proper procedure? You investigate to obtain the facts.

This question from KCIW’s developing news department was brought to the KCIW Board of Directors. Some thought that because Paasch’s business was a non-profit organization, it was exempt. Others weren’t sure. So it was decided to refer the question to the Oregon Governmental Ethics Commission because they are the final authority. But their process is this: in order to obtain a ruling on a question, you must file a complaint. That’s their procedure. But it is still just a question and nothing more.

Now, all of this is meant to be confidential. With the ruling coming back of “no violation” that should have been the end of it. You would not know of it, and any responsible news organization would file it away and move on.

So how then did this become such a public issue? The answer is that Paasch himself made it public. He could have just as easily remained quiet but he chose to make it an issue for his own reasons.

Sure, anybody would be aggravated to learn that they are the subject of an inquiry. But when you sign on to be a public official, especially an elected official, you also sign on to close scrutiny of your statements and actions by the public and the news media. That’s the way the system works.

Paasch certainly knows this. He chose to play it the way he did and make it a news story. Paasch alone is responsible for any grief he feels over this.

The rumor mill and social media may convict you based on your neighbor’s report of your marijuana plants but any credible news organization knows better and will investigate to see if you are legally growing just for yourself, or if you have a license to grow and sell. Any credible news organization is going to do it right and get the facts or scrap the story. And that’s exactly what KCIW’s news director did — got the facts and found it to be a nonstory.

KCIW did the right thing. Otherwise, your neighbor becomes your judge and jury.

Curry Coast Community Radio Board of Directors

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