NNC members invited to apply for accreditation to federal leaders’ debates

NNC members invited to apply for accreditation to federal leaders’ debates

Earlier this week, shortly after the launch of the 44th federal election, the Leaders’ Debates Commission released an open call to all news organizations inviting them to apply for accreditation to attend one (or both) of the two upcoming leadership debates that will take place as part of the campaign. 

As part of the newly-released process, journalists from all NNC member publications will automatically be eligible for accreditation. The deadline for accreditation applications is Wednesday, August 25 at 23:59 EDT. The debates will take place on September 8 (French) and September 9 (English) at the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Quebec. 

To read the full release from the Leaders’ Debates commission, please click here 


Complaints we heard: Concerns about reporting on COVID-19 vaccines reaches fevered pace

How news organizations report on vaccines has been the subject of numerous complaints submitted to the National NewsMedia Council over the years, and perhaps unsurprisingly, the volume of those concerns has increased over the last year.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, some individuals have expressed concern that any reporting on vaccine side effects could lead to vaccine hesitancy and, therefore, all critical coverage should be avoided. Others have alleged that the information reported is ‘biased’ and therefore should not be trusted.

Although the majority of such complaints did not indicate grounds to support a breach of journalistic standards, they do underscore the importance of providing accurate, relevant information to readers in a timely manner.

The NNC recently reviewed a complaint from one reader about the accuracy of the information presented about a COVID-19 outbreak in a community on the west coast. While the NNC found no grounds to support a complaint about a breach of journalistic standards, it did consider the matter to be of interest to the wider public.

The article in question reported on a recent COVID-19 outbreak in a retirement facility. The story relied on a memo circulated by the company to its staff.

The complainant expressed concern that the article inaccurately attributed the outbreak to unvaccinated individuals. They stated that subsequent contact tracing efforts were not able to verify the source of the outbreak, and argued that the article contained personal, identifying information about the unvaccinated individuals.

The NNC found no evidence to support the complainant’s claim that the article contained inaccurate or personal, identifying information about the unvaccinated individuals.

Standard journalistic practice allows journalists to select the sources they deem credible. Information may become available after a story is published, and readers may find alternative sources to support their views. However, this fact alone does not indicate a breach of the journalistic standard of accuracy.

The NNC accepted the news organization’s response that the letter provided relevant information on an event in the public interest at the time of reporting. It also accepted that an attempt was made by the news organization to reach out to the retirement facility for further comment. As noted in the article, that request was unsuccessful.

For these reasons, the NNC found no grounds to support a complaint about a breach of journalistic standards. It also underscored the fact that as a self-regulatory body that promotes responsible journalism and free expression, it strongly defends journalists’ ability to report on these important issues in the public interest.



A new chapter begins at the National NewsMedia Council

The National NewsMedia Council (NNC) is pleased to announce enhanced roles for its two staff members following the retirement of Pat Perkel, the organization’s inaugural executive director, effective April 30, 2021. 

Effective today, Brent Jolly has been appointed to serve as the NNC’s new managing director and will oversee day-to-day operations. Cara Sabatini will continue to serve in her role as director of dispute resolution, coordinating and supporting the resolution of  public complaints. John Fraser continues to serve as the NNC’s executive chair. 

“Under the  direction of Pat Perkel and her team, the NNC has in barely five years established itself in the front ranks of media councils everywhere and has earned the trust of both the public and the journalistic profession and industry in Canada,” said Fraser. 

“Speaking on behalf of the entire council board, we couldn’t be more pleased at this transition in the continuing evolution of the NNC’s championing of journalistic standards, media ethics, and news literacy.”

Both Jolly and Sabatini have worked with the NNC for several years. Jolly joined the NNC in 2016, while Sabatini joined the NNC in 2017. 

Fraser said NNC members – and the public – can continue to expect the timely, thoughtful service they have come to expect from the NNC over the past several years. 


Competition for fourth annual Fraser MacDougall Prize now open

The National NewsMedia Council, in partnership with Journalists for Human Rights, is pleased to announce the opening of the fourth annual Fraser MacDougall Prize for Best New Voice in Canadian Human Rights Reporting.

The prize is awarded to an exceptional piece of student journalism, with a human rights focus, that is published in campus-based media during the 2020-2021 academic year.

Winners (typically, the story’s writer and editor) receive a cash prize of $1,000. Previous award winners of the Fraser MacDougall Prize have gone to young journalists from The VarsityThe Queen’s Journal, and Capital Current.

In pre-COVID times, young journalists would be recognized for this achievement at the annual Journalists for Human Rights Gala, held in Toronto. Winners will be celebrated as soon as in-person events resume post-pandemic.

This award is made possible by a generous endowment to the National NewsMedia Council by the family of the late Fraser MacDougall, who had a distinguished career in journalism, chiefly with the The Canadian Press. Later in life, he was the first executive secretary of the former Ontario Press Council.

This year’s competition is open on Tuesday, April 13, 2021. Submissions will be accepted until Monday, May 3, 2021 at 23:59 EST.

To apply for this year’s award, please include the following items in your application:

  • A copy of the story, in either print or digital format
  • The names of the principle writer and editor who worked on the story
  • A one page note to jury members that contains information on:
    • What kind of human rights issue was addressed
    • Why this story was important to its readers/community
    • What changes, if any, came because of the story’s publication
    • Any other information about the editorial process you think is worthy of consideration by judges

Queries about the award can be directed to Brent Jolly, the NNC’s director of community management. He can be reached at: [email protected]


An evening to celebrate public service journalism (and an industry legend!)

It’s not every day that one is presented with the opportunity to reflect on a career of more than 60 years in the news business, but for the NNC’s executive chair, that rare moment will be taking place on Thursday evening.

This past June, the Michener Awards Foundation announced that John Anderson Fraser would be receiving the prestigious Michener-Baxter Special Award for long-term achievement in public service journalism.

This special award, established in 1983 and presented at the discretion of the foundation’s board of directors, has only been bestowed on eight Canadians in the past three decades.

“It seems fitting that Mr. Fraser — an icon of Canadian journalism — receive this honour in our 50th anniversary year,” said Pierre-Paul Noreau, President of the Michener Award Foundation.

As a reporter, columnist, editor, ombudsman and benefactor, Fraser has lived as diverse a journalistic career as anyone in Canada. His extraordinary legacy spans six decades of the modern news media era in Canada.

The award is traditionally bestowed during the annual Michener Award ceremony at Rideau Hall, which for the past two years has been hosted by Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette, Governor General of Canada.

Fraser started out at 16 as a summer copy boy at the old Toronto Telegram. He also worked summers in newsrooms in St. John’s and Sherbrooke. In his distinguished and award-winning tenure at The Globe and Mail, Fraser was a dance and theatre critic, a China correspondent, UK-based European correspondent, Ottawa bureau chief, national columnist and national editor, before becoming editor of Saturday Night magazine from 1987-1994.

As a journalist, John Fraser received multiple national and international awards, he has been a columnist at The Toronto Star and the National Post, a best-selling author of 12 books and has been published in everything from the New York Times to Paris Match and The Guardian. In his career, he twice became part of the story: first when he assisted Russian ballet star, Mikhail Baryshnikov, to defect from the old Soviet Union to the West in 1974; and later as a correspondent in China when he addressed a crowd of over 20,000 people in Tienanmen Square during the short-lived 1978 Xidan Democracy Movement.

He was Master and Chair of the board of Massey College for 19 years before becoming Founding President and CEO of the National NewsMedia Council, the principal media ethics watchdog in Canada with over 500 daily and weekly newspapers, digital news platforms, magazines and campus publications. He currently serves as the council’s Executive Chair.

Over the years, John Fraser has been a staunch and tireless mentor for countless young journalists. He rescued the beleaguered University of Toronto Southam Journalism Fellowship Program, which for two decades under his leadership supported dozens of mid-career journalists from across Canada and around the world. In 2016, in recognition of his long and continuing career in the profession, he was named to the Canadian Journalism Hall of Fame. 

The Michener Award is Canada’s premier journalism award, dedicated to meritorious public service journalism. This year’s six finalists for the award are The Globe and Mail, La Presse, CBC News, the London Free Press, the Halifax Examiner, and the Institute for Investigative Journalism.

The Michener-Baxter Special Award recognizes public interest journalism of an individual or organization for long-term achievement.

We hope you’ll join us to celebrate a distinguished career that continues to thrive!


Complaints we heard: Freedom of expression or misinformation?

Over the past several months, the NNC has been hearing a great deal about pandemic-related reader comments and letters to the editor.

“Yet another (letter) praising (a writer’s) comments has appeared in this week’s (paper). Large numbers of protestors have started to protest measures based on this type of misinformation that they believe affects them,” is one lament we heard.

“It concerns me that misinformation, and disinformation for that matter, would even get published.”

Some readers have told us they are worried about how the alleged misinformation published as letters to the editor will hurt public health and encourage risky social behaviour(s). They report being afraid to challenge those facts or opinions because of the fear of social media backlash.

We also heard about the other side of the coin – readers upset about being unable to submit comments on COVID-19 coverage.

One reader who contacted us said he and others were unable to post comments containing self-described ‘alternate information’ about COVID-19. Another complainant wanted to post “facts and data that media and governments are not providing to the public.”

Letters to the editor are a long-standing feature allowing readers to express opinions and to respond to published articles. Online comments provide a similar forum for discussion. Best practice is to publish letters that represent the diversity of views and voices in the community.

But what if letters to the editor espouse misinformation?

We’ve heard of letters to the editor containing anti-mask and anti-vaccine rhetoric. In smaller communities, or ones with (thankfully) few cases of COVID, and where the impact is perhaps less obvious, do those opinions carry outsized influence? How does a newsroom assess whether it is giving voice to diverse views or is spreading misinformation? At what point is there no “other side” in matters of public health?

These are questions worthy of attention as the pandemic underlines a new challenge in the news media’s effort to quell misinformation while promoting freedom of expression.

For its part, the NNC cannot settle controversies around COVID-related science and policy. It supports the prerogative of news organizations to produce journalism it deems to be in the public’s interest. Our mandate is to consider complaints about breaches of journalistic standards in news reporting and opinion articles, including ones related to COVID-19.


Complaints we heard: There’s more to the story than just its headline

The NNC has received several complaints this year about headlines. In two recent examples, both complainants were concerned that the headline of the story contained misleading or insufficient information. The NNC found no breach in either case, but instead identified relevant points for the purpose of reader education.

In one case, an individual was concerned that the headline of a Globe and Mail article incorrectly attributed the statement that ‘Mi’gmaq students [were] no longer welcome’ in the province to the New Brunswick premier, or worse, to all New Brunswick residents. The individual felt that it was incorrect because no one had uttered the exact phrase.

In this case, the Globe amended the headline shortly after publication to include a more detailed statement of fact, in particular, that Mi’gmaq students in Quebec could not ‘cross border for school.’ The NNC views that corrective action as appropriate.

The NNC pointed out that it is common practice for news headlines to refer to governments or well-known groups in this short-hand manner. Readers generally understand the reference to be to the authorities, not each resident. It is also common practice to paraphrase the statements and perspectives of officials in headlines with the verb “says,” as was the case in this example.

In another example, an operator of a local business was concerned that the headline of a Collingwood Today article was misleading because it did not name the pub where a staff member had tested positive for COVID. The complainant stated he had received numerous calls from curious patrons, and said the lack of specific detail in the headline left some readers to assume it referred to his establishment.

In reviewing the complaint and article in question, the NNC noted that the first line of the article referenced the specific establishment.

The NNC sympathizes with the challenges that businesses are facing during these times. We also recognize that journalism has the job of providing the community with important information, and that at times that mandate must be balanced against privacy concerns and perceived negative impact. The NNC found that balance was achieved in this case.

Standard journalistic practice requires that headlines are accurate and reflect the focus of the article. However, headlines are also limited in that their function is to grab readers’ attention in a concise and sometimes clever way.

In these cases, most of the concerns about the headlines were answered by information contained in the article that followed. While it is unfortunate that some readers may choose to read only the headline and miss out on important information in the article, that itself does not indicate a breach of standards.


Complaints we heard: Moderating comments

The NNC recently reviewed a complaint from a reader who was displeased that Sudbury.com had removed a message posted to the comment section at the foot of June 23, 2020, article under the headline, “Graduate students say request to LU to waive tuition fees met with ‘basically silence’”.

The complainant expressed concern that the news organization acted unethically by removing the comment, and stated that the act amounted to “unlawful censorship” and violation of Charter rights to free expression.

In its review of the complaint, the NNC noted that policies for comment moderation were clearly laid out in the publication’s community guidelines. These guidelines provide news organizations with wide latitude to review and approve comments that adhere to the stated parameters, while enhancing the discussion of the topic at hand. It is worth noting that a news publication is not obliged to print any or all comments submitted.

The news organization’s community guidelines explain that those who wish to post comments on their site are requested to stay on topic. The NNC supports the view that it is the prerogative of news organizations to moderate comments it considers to be relevant and appropriate.

As the NNC is a self-regulatory organization, and not a court of law, it declined to interpret the complainant’s concerns about a breach of Charter rights. From a journalistic point of view, however, the NNC concurs with the observation that comment moderation does not constitute censorship.

For the reasons above, the NNC decided it would not take further action on the complaint, as there were no clear violations of journalistic standards.


Michener Foundation honours John Fraser

The Michener Awards Foundation today announced it is presenting its prestigious Michener-Baxter Special Award for long-term achievement in public service journalism to John Anderson Fraser.

This special award, established in 1983 and presented at the discretion of the foundation’s board of directors, has only been bestowed on eight Canadians in the past three decades.

“It seems fitting that Mr. Fraser — an icon of Canadian journalism — receive this honour in our 50th anniversary year,” said Pierre-Paul Noreau, President of the Michener Award Foundation.

As a reporter, columnist, editor, ombudsman and benefactor, Fraser has lived as diverse a journalistic career as anyone in Canada. His extraordinary legacy spans six decades of the modern news media era in Canada.

The award is traditionally bestowed during the annual Michener Award ceremony at Rideau Hall, which for the past two years has been hosted by Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette, Governor General of Canada. The ceremony is postponed at present due to the global health crisis.

Fraser started out at 16 as a summer copy boy at the old Toronto Telegram. He also worked summers in newsrooms in St. John’s and Sherbrooke. In his distinguished and award-winning tenure at The Globe and Mail, Fraser was a dance and theatre critic, a China correspondent, UK-based European correspondent, Ottawa bureau chief, national columnist and national editor, before becoming editor of Saturday Night magazine from 1987-1994.

As a journalist, John Fraser received multiple national and international awards, he has been a columnist at The Toronto Star and the National Post, a best-selling author of 12 books and has been published in everything from the New York Times to Paris Match and The Guardian. In his career, he twice became part of the story: first when he assisted Russian ballet star, Mikhail Baryshnikov, to defect from the old Soviet Union to the West in 1974; and later as a correspondent in China when he addressed a crowd of over 20,000 people in Tienanmen Square during the short-lived 1978 Xidan Democracy Movement.

He was Master and Chair of the board of Massey College for 19 years before becoming Founding President and CEO of the National NewsMedia Council, the principal media ethics watchdog in Canada with over 500 daily and weekly newspapers, digital news platforms, magazines and campus publications. He currently serves as the council’s Executive Chair.

Over the years, John Fraser has been a staunch and tireless mentor for countless young journalists. He rescued the beleaguered University of Toronto Southam Journalism Fellowship Program, which for two decades under his leadership supported dozens of mid-career journalists from across Canada and around the world. In 2016, in recognition of his long and continuing career in the profession, he was named to the Canadian Journalism Hall of Fame.

The Michener Award is Canada’s premier journalism award, dedicated to meritorious public service journalism. This year’s six finalists for the award are The Globe and Mail, La Presse, CBC News, the London Free Press, the Halifax Examiner, and the Institute for Investigative Journalism.

The Michener-Baxter Special Award recognizes public interest journalism of an individual or organization for long-term achievement.