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B.C. journalist vows to keep his job while serving on city council

·3 min read
Penticton Herald managing editor James Miller was elected city councillor in a byelection on Saturday.  (Miller4Penticton/Facebook - image credit)
Penticton Herald managing editor James Miller was elected city councillor in a byelection on Saturday. (Miller4Penticton/Facebook - image credit)

A veteran journalist about to become a city councillor in B.C.'s South Okanagan is planning to keep his newsroom job, amid concerns over how he will be able to avoid perceived conflict of interests.

Penticton Herald managing editor James Miller garnered 1,666 votes in Saturday's byelection, beating Isaac Gilbert by 900 votes, according to preliminary results.

The final ballot count will will be released later this week.

Miller, 55, said he won't quit his job at the newspaper because he can't afford to.

"Unfortunately, the stipend [from council] is not enough for me to live on," he said Tuesday to Chris Walker, the host of CBC's Daybreak South. "The Herald has been very generous with me. I do require that income."

WATCH | James Miller announces he is running for Penticton city council:

Miller announced his decision to run on May 4 after former councillor Jake Kimberley quit in February due to illness.

At the time, he said his newspaper had implemented "incredibly strict guidelines" on journalists' conduct.

"Starting with our byelection coverage, everything's been outsourced to independent writers," Miller told CBC's David French. "If elected, I simply will not touch anything that has … to do with city council."

"I am not to discuss … anything [that has] to do with city council, with any of my co-workers. Actually, on the days of meetings, I physically won't even be in the building and the paper will get laid out without me knowing," he went on.

Miller took a leave of absence from the Penticton Herald from May 15 to June 21 to run his election campaign.

Miller4Penticton/Facebook
Miller4Penticton/Facebook

Frances Bula, a journalism instructor at Langara College in Vancouver, said it's unusual that journalists like Miller insist on keeping their job once they become a politician, because readers may think the media outlet they're working for is biased.

"The paper's coverage will be perceived by some people to be favouring whatever position the managing editor is holding at council," she said on Daybreak South on May 5.

Bula also said Miller may have a hard time distinguishing between his councillor and editor roles.

"He's potentially hearing about things [in the council] that should be covered in the paper, so that puts him in a kind of awkward position that he knows about things that should be covered, but he can't say anything."

Miller4Penticton/Facebook
Miller4Penticton/Facebook

Miller promised the Penticton Herald's integrity won't be impacted by his political role.

"I am assuring the readers … that it [Penticton Herald] will be absolutely 100 per cent neutral," he said before the election.

After he is sworn in, Miller will serve the remaining 15 months of Kimberley's four-year term until September 2022. He said he's still unsure what happens next.

"I may just step down [from the council], but I will have to have a serious conversation with our owners, a serious conversation with my spouse," he said. "Maybe I'll take early retirement. Maybe I won't run again."

Tap the link below to hear James Miller's interview on Daybreak South:

Tap the link below to hear Frances Bula's interview on Daybreak South:

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