The co-chair of the Church Wellesley Village Business Improvement Area (BIA) says she will not speak to Xtra until more “positive stories” are written about the BIA.
In a letter that was posted on the BIA website on Oct 9 and sent to Xtra’s general email account on Oct 10, Avery Pitcher calls coverage of a recent BIA meeting “an attack” and questions whether Xtra’s reporting is “fair, balanced or responsible.”
Before Xtra received the letter, Pitcher told Xtra intern Daniela Costa that — depending on Xtra’s response to her letter — the BIA will determine whether or not it will provide Xtra reporters with interviews in the future.
Former BIA chair Dennis O’Connor calls Pitcher’s actions “outrageous, unprofessional and unethical.”
“The Church and Wellesley BIA is not doing themselves any favours by attacking the media like this,” he says. “For them to personalize this is incredibly unprofessional and just doesn’t make sense. This says more about the individuals at the BIA than it does about Xtra. It’s not ethical of the BIA to do this.”
Pitcher’s letter is a response to an article published Sept 28. The story addresses criticism the BIA has faced from the community for its decision to crack down on postering on streetlamps on Church Street. This issue was one of several discussed at the BIA’s Sept 24 “meet-and-greet” event.
A separate story posted the same day reported other news from the meeting. But in her letter, Pitcher states that Xtra mostly ignored the other issues.
“Issues addressed included: WorldPride coming in 2014, The Pan Am Games in 2015, our new gateway markers designed to mark the boundaries of The Village, new seasonal ‘bump out’ street patios, installation of four flagpoles at the Church/Wellesley corner, more lighting at the base of trees in the area to enhance safety and ambience, along with street power cleaning, and cleaning up of the poster-covered poles,” Pitcher writes. “Unfortunately, only the latter item was reported upon in Xtra.”
In fact, Xtra has reported extensively on the upcoming WorldPride event (examples here, here and here), the gateway markers and other beautification initiatives, including in the story Pitcher criticizes in her letter.
Pitcher goes on to say that “Xtra is a significant publication in the community and we would hope to see a more accurate reflection of the work we are engaged in.
“Being critical is easy, but we are trying to protect and enhance a village that is in need of serious attention,” she writes. “We would love to read about some of the programs that we run or enhance, whether it is Halloween celebrations, events like the AIDS Walk, or our commitment to preparing Church Street for World Pride.”
Pitcher, who calls posters “grungy,” says the BIA is “under tremendous economic pressure” to make the area more beautiful. “It is our goal to incorporate community postering into the village in a way that enhances the area.”
O’Connor says Xtra is fair to criticize the move. He notes that postering is part of the history of the gay liberation movement and must be preserved.
“First they attack grassroots community communication, then they attack the major gay news,” O’Connor says. “Are they trying to control what’s said about the BIA? They can’t do that. She can’t decide that just because there’s been some bad press the media should be cut off.”
O’Connor compared Pitcher’s threat to similar behaviour from Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, who refuses to speak to the Toronto Star. Media should not face intimidation because reporting is not in the BIA’s favour, O’Connor adds.
“What she is doing is no different, and it’s really unfortunate . . . Cutting off Canada’s national gay newspaper? Are they completely mad? They should be happy to have any media coverage at all,” he says.
This isn’t the first time Xtra has been the target of BIA outrage. Last year, Pitcher took issue with Xtra’s coverage of the BIA’s cancellation of Fetish Fair, which was rebranded as the Church Street Village Fair before the BIA eventually cancelled the event.
Full disclosure: The Church Wellesley Village BIA board is made up of business representatives from within the BIA’s district. Xtra held a seat on the board until it moved its offices from Church Street to its current location at 2 Carlton St, which is outside the BIA boundaries, in July 2011.