By PAT BURKETTE
The Driftwood’s front-page photo of Salt Spring Island Fire Rescue’s response to an airplane accident at a private airstrip last week resulted in a firestorm that saw the Gulf Islands’ newspaper of record arbitrarily pulled from some island store shelves by local distributors.
Family members of the airplane’s pilot, Gabor Balogh, attempted to either buy up all the papers or have them removed from sales points. Readers, advertisers, community groups promoting activities and even islanders placing obituaries for loved ones were all impacted while Driftwood staff fought to keep the newspapers on the shelves.
Balogh, a dentist and owner of Salt Spring Dental in Grace Point Square, made a hard landing in his Lake Amphibian aircraft on or about his airstrip at his 66 Suffolk Rd. property on Saturday, Aug. 8. The Canadian Civil Aircraft Register lists Balogh as co-owner of the plane, a 1978 Lake model LA-4-200, call letters C-FCDK, with Philip De Ridder of Chilliwack. According to specifications provided at http://lakeamphibclub.com/performance-specs/ the plane requires 600 feet for a land takeoff, and 475 feet for a landing. The Transportation Safety Board is investigating the accident, as it does with all incidents involving privately registered aircraft.
Reached by phone at his home in Chilliwack on Sunday, De Ridder said of Balogh’s medical condition, “He’s fine. He gets out of the hospital today. There were no severe or longstanding injuries.”
Salt Spring Fire Rescue documented their actions at the accident scene with a photo on their Facebook page, as they often do. The Driftwood obtained permission to use the photo for the Aug. 12 paper and was given a high-resolution version for print purposes. But last Wednesday afternoon, publisher Amber Ogilvie began receiving reports of the paper being removed from shelves.
According to Ogilvie, Thrifty Foods manager Mike Boizard called her at 12:30 p.m.
“He told me they were pulling all the papers from the store because a woman came in who was very upset and threatening to sue if they sold the paper. He also said that the woman told him we printed the picture without permission.”
Boizard agreed to return the papers to the shelf after discussing it with Ogilvie.
After hearing reports the paper was pulled from Country Grocer, Ogilvie contacted manager Mark Vekeman, who stated “a woman who was very emotional” told the store that the Driftwood had no approval to run the photo that was taken on her private property. Vekeman said he would not put the papers back on the shelf. When Ogilvie said she would send a truck over to pick up the papers, she was informed by Vekeman that most had been sold and the rest put in the trash compactor, but he would recover what they could.
“I told him to tell his staff we were sorry they had to deal with this situation,” said Ogilvie.
Ogilvie said after people were directed to the Driftwood office to buy their paper a record number did so.
At 12:50 p.m., Ogilvie heard from Valerie Burkett, Balogh’s wife, by phone. Burkett asked that Ogilvie “recall” the papers, stating the Driftwood had no right to run the photo. Ogilvie refused a recall.
Other Driftwood distributors were visited by Burkett. Adina Hildebrandt, co-owner of Salt Spring Books, said Burkett came to the store on Wednesday.
“She offered to buy all our papers. She said it was her husband on the front cover and that he was critical. I had to sit her down.”
Hildebrandt said, “It was incredibly intense. I’ve never had a person approach me like that.”
Hildebrandt took the Driftwood off the newsstand in front of the store, but continued selling them from behind the counter.
Jennifer Close, store manager at Pharmasave, was also approached by Burkett.
“She told us to not put the papers out. She said it was her husband and the picture was taken without permission, and that it was illegal.”
Close said she put the papers aside and did not continue to sell them. However, when contacted by Driftwood office staff a Pharmasave employee stated all the papers had been sold.
Both Embe Bakery and Old Salty said all copies of the paper were sold by Thursday. Cathryn Bowland, owner of Salt Spring Natureworks, reported that “no one approached us,” but that only one paper was left on Friday. “They usually last a week.” However, Bowland ran a sales report and found all paper purchases were single transactions.
Driftwood subscribers received their papers in the mailbox as usual.
When reached by phone on Friday night and asked about how Balogh was doing, Burkett said, “He’s doing better. My husband is in the hospital. It has been a terrible week.”
Burkett maintained that the courtesy photo credit appearing under the fire department’s photo of the accident meant the Driftwood should not have used it.
She said, “The Driftwood had no right to use that photo. There is a copyright under the photo. You can’t use someone else’s copyright. That is illegal.”
When asked about trying to stop sales of the Driftwood, Burkett said, “The Driftwood didn’t lose any money because I bought all the papers.”
Reached by phone for comment, Sean Holman, journalism professor at Mount Royal University in Calgary and longtime investigative journalist, discussed public right-to-know factors such as public funding of Salt Spring Island Fire Rescue and the possibility that members of the public may have been injured if the plane had been unable to land on the airstrip.
“Publication of the photo is within the bounds of appropriateness,” he said. “It is newsworthy. Circumstances which would make publication inappropriate would be an actual defamation or hate speech.”
As for the fire department photo being taken on private property, Holman said, “A lot of that is determined by whether you can control access to the space, such as a person breaking through chains to get in, which doesn’t apply in this case.”
Holman added, “The vendors wanted to help the distressed woman. It speaks to how goodhearted people are. But this should be an opportunity for these vendors to reflect on how they compromised the ability of the news media on Salt Spring.”
In fact, Country Grocer operations manager Matteo Hermani had already been reflecting on store actions when interviewed on Aug. 17.
“Twenty-twenty vision is afterwards. Decisions were made that were too quick, in panic. Sometimes, it’s spur of the moment. There are a lot of things going on in the store. Ethically, what we should or shouldn’t do comes later. Let’s put this down as one of those lessons. Now that we’ve been through this situation, the next time we will phone the Driftwood.”
Brent Jolly, president of the Canadian Association of Journalists, also commented in a telephone interview about publication of the photo.
“It has a public interest. People may have heard the engine and worried about what happened.”
Jolly pointed to the recent crash of Snowbird Captain Jennifer Casey. “There were houses damaged and fire.”
“Fundamentally,” he said, “journalism is still about being the eyes and ears of the community and holding people accountable. In the world we live in now, everybody is a content creator. You can portray your own version of the truth. The importance of journalism is in providing accurate reliable information.”
Vancouver-based media lawyer David F. Sutherland, QC, said he agreed with the statements of both Holman and Jolly, and added, “The Driftwood’s use of the photograph was with permission of the copyright holder, but, in any event, would qualify for the defence of fair dealing for news reporting, under Section 29.2 of the Copyright Act, in my opinion.”