The NNC invites members to participate in its first general membership survey

The NNC invites members to participate in its first general membership survey

The National NewsMedia Council is distributing its first general membership survey to its nearly 600 members. 

The objective of this survey is two-fold. First, the NNC is keen to identify what additional guidance or resources, related to journalism standards, member publications would find helpful. The second objective is to gauge the current state of news literacy efforts within Canadian publications and how those efforts could be strengthened.  

The survey is composed of nine (9) questions. We expect it should take member publications approximately 10 minutes to complete. 

While this survey is not anonymous, responses will not be publicly attributed to any specific individual or news organization. In completing this survey, members consent to having an NNC staff member follow up with them on issues raised in their responses. 

The link to the survey will be shared with members in a separate email. If you didn’t receive the survey, or would like us to resend you a copy, please contact us at: info@mediacouncil.ca.

You are also welcomed to share any additional feedback to staff at that same address.


Update from the Complaints Desk: The importance of editorial discretion

A cornerstone of a free and responsible press is journalists’ ability to report information that is significant, interesting, or new. Reporters and editors are tasked with deciding which details are needed for readers to understand the broader context of a given story.

In exercising this editorial discretion, journalists follow standards of accuracy and fairness, and take care to avoid undue harm. While quality journalism seeks to provide readers with a full account of events, occasionally it is also possible that certain details only become available after a story is reported, and articles may be updated to indicate any changes to readers.

The cases below are some recent examples of complaints brought to the attention of the NNC by readers  concerned with editorial decisions surrounding which information to include (or not) in local news reporting.

A free press means the freedom to report on public events and those involved

An individual phoned the NNC expressing concern that a local newspaper incorrectly spelled his daughter’s name and reported on his family members without their consent in an October 2022 article. The article reported on a public signing of an agreement to include more Indigenous teachings in schools. The article also referenced a story that had been published the previous year which highlighted the need for more education on Indigenous culture and teachings.

The individual took issue with the reference to the original story, which was widely reported on and centred around his daughter who was shamed at school for wearing a culturally significant garment. In that case, the article used inaccurate and insensitive language when describing her heritage. Further, although it did hear from a family member who was understood to be speaking for the family, the news organization did not directly consult the parents prior to publishing the piece. In response, the news organization apologized and removed the article in question.

The individual was also upset that the October 2022 article included a photo of his wife, who was a participant in the public event. He stated that as a result of the missteps in the prior article, the news organization had agreed not to cover him or his family in future stories. This, he said, was because any coverage of his family by the local newspaper results in them being the target of anti-Indigenous hate. He did not elaborate on specifics. 

The news organization responded to the individual by promptly fixing the spelling error in the daughter’s name. Although it noted that the event was public, and was in part prompted by his daughter’s widely reported experience, the news organization subsequently decided to remove all mention and images of his family members.

The NNC agrees that issues involving racism should be treated with appropriate journalistic care and rigour. Accuracy in facts and language is particularly important so as not to perpetuate harm.

As the concerns were made over the phone, and not submitted in writing, the matter did not rise to the level of a formal complaint. That said, the NNC informed the news organization of the matter so that they had an opportunity to address the issue at the local level, as is standard procedure.

In this case, the NNC recognized the news organization’s efforts to treat the issue of potential harm with sensitivity, particularly in cases where hate is an issue. At the same time, the ability of journalists to report on significant public events and their participants is a key aspect of press freedom. For this reason, the NNC does not endorse general agreements to refrain from covering specific individuals or their families. Instead, it would emphasize the need to report on such stories in accordance with best journalistic practices, which includes attention to language use. (Case ID: 2022-73)

Updating stories on criminal charges with relevant information is a best practice

An individual filed a complaint stating concern that a 2007 article reported on shoplifting charges against him. The article included a number of brief reports on separate charges laid against different individuals based on information from law enforcement. The article noted that the then 19-year-old was charged with theft under ($5000) following an allegation of shoplifting and was to appear in court. 

The complainant said his charges were dropped but that the article continues to affect his livelihood. The NNC referred the complainant to the news organization, as is standard practice when newsrooms have not been given an opportunity to respond to the matter directly. The news organization responded by removing his name from the article and indicated that the charges did not result in a conviction. In this case, the NNC considered the matter resolved due to corrective action. (Case ID: 2022-83)

Reporting on farm animals breaching barriers does not breach privacy

An individual filed a complaint stating concern that a local news site breached privacy by reporting on the escape of two goats from her farm. 

The individual worried that it reflected negatively on them and their farm and that they received negative social media comments as a result of the coverage. The article reported that a number of residents attempted to corral and return the animals to their pasture. 

Although standard practice would generally support the identification of the local farm, in this case, the NNC observed that the article did not include the name of the farm or the farmers out of courtesy, as noted in the piece. The NNC also observed that the story included comments from community members stating their love for the farm. The NNC found no evidence of a breach of journalistic standards, such as breach of privacy, or any evidence of harmful statements that would have merited a response. On the contrary, it was the view of the NNC that the article reflected positively on the farm and its inhabitants, both human and animal alike. (Case ID: 2022-67)


The National NewsMedia Council begins 2023 by welcoming three new directors

The National NewsMedia Council begins the new year by welcoming three fresh new faces to its board of directors. 

Two of the new directors are professional directors who hold senior editorial positions at their respective news organizations. One is a public director with expertise in both the legal and financial sectors.

Sophie Gaulin joins the NNC board as the executive director and editor-in-chief of the Franco-Manitoban newspaper La Liberté. She strongly believes in the need for a free, strong and independent press. 

Gaulin is a champion of the importance of educating young Canadians about reliable news consumption. She has been involved in many initiatives to educate young people in schools and, since the beginning of the pandemic, has been publishing children’s magazines on COVID-19, which opened the doors to an international French-speaking market. She has served on the board of News Media Canada for several years and has also been a judge with the National Newspaper Awards.

“Looking around the board table, I feel very privileged to join an organization composed of such esteemed individuals,” Gaulin said. “I’m looking forward to serving, to the best of my abilities, as a leader of an organization that is so vital to the health of our democracy.”

 

Rob Roberts serves on the NNC board as the editor-in-chief of the National Post, where he has worked in various editing roles since it launched in 1998, minus a stint as Atlantic Bureau Chief for The Canadian Press from 2015-2019. 

Over the course of his career, Roberts has also worked for his hometown Montreal Gazette, as well as the now-defunct Daily News in Halifax as a reporter and copy editor, and at CKCW-CFQM Radio in Moncton, N.B., where among other things he produced a Top 40 countdown.

 

Carmen Crépin joins the NNC as a public member. She is a lawyer and member of the Quebec Bar since 1974. 

After private practice, she served in different legal and administrative positions with Quebec Transport, Justice, and Solicitor general ministries before being appointed Chief Coroner Inquests and Deputy Chief Coroner.

In 1989, Crépin joined the financial sector as Secretary of Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec and Fonds de Solidarité FTQ before being appointed Chair of Quebec Securities Commission. She later worked with the Investment Dealers Association, a pan-Canadian self-regulatory organization with oversight of the investment industry and with the Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada until 2015. 

“I’m excited to join the NNC because quality, accurate information is a basic key for citizen participation; it has to be pertinent, enlightening and rigorous in order to support our reflection and action,” she said. 

Crépin was educated in applied ethics at the University of Sherbrooke. 

The Council, and its staff, would like to extend its sincere thanks to outgoing director John Racovali. We wish him only the best in his retirement. 


Update from the Complaints Desk: A snapshot of complaints about published images

While most complaints relate to specific statements contained in a story, sometimes the NNC will hear from individuals concerned about other elements of a piece, including the photographs used. As with any journalistic content, there are standards and best practices surrounding the publication of images. Below are some of the complaints that the NNC assessed that dealt with concerns about photos.

News organizations take care when sharing images of tragic accidents

An individual filed a complaint stating concern about sensitive images used in a news story. The article reported on a fatal collision and showed photographs of the damaged vehicle, including a close-up of a car engine leaking oil on the road which, the complainant argued, looked like blood. In response to reader concerns, the news organization published an editorial outlining its reasons for reporting on accidents but also noting changes to how it will cover such stories in the future, including how the main image for a story will focus on the action of first responders.

On review of the article in question, the NNC observed that the images did not show any blood or any aspect of the victim. At the same time, the NNC supports the news organization’s steps to present such stories with more sensitivity and to communicate those changes to readers. For these reasons, the NNC considered the matter resolved due to corrective action. (Case ID: 2022-41)

Removal of ‘unflattering’ photos are not part of the NNC’s mandate

An individual approached the NNC with concern that an article published more than two years ago contained unflattering images of her. The article in question reported her missing. A subsequent article reported that she had been located.

Journalism plays an important role in communicating relevant information to the wider community, which may have an impact on individuals’ safety. At the same time, the NNC supports the best practice of updating articles with information about the outcome of cases, including missing persons cases.

As a matter of process, the NNC generally deals with articles published no more than a month before the complaint was filed, and only accepts complaints after the individual has tried to resolve the matter with the news organization directly, which was not done in this case. Importantly, the NNC does not deal with matters of taste or assess appropriateness of images based on whether the individual photographed feels they are favourable, as that is a matter of personal preference and not a matter of journalistic standards.

While the NNC declined to take further action on the complaint based on the reasons mentioned, it recognizes that coverage of missing persons is not without its challenges for newsrooms. For this reason, the NNC supports newsroom discussions on how to cover such stories accurately and equitably, as well as steps taken to limit undue harm to individuals and to ensure that decisions surrounding such stories do not disproportionately affect marginalized groups. (Case ID: 2022-45)

Real information about property and estate photographs: Sourcing and publishing photos in real estate coverage

A real estate agent contacted the NNC stating concern that images of their client’s house were featured as part of a property feature and felt that it was an invasion of their privacy.

The NNC pointed out that, generally speaking, much of the information about housing sales is accessible publicly, and that real estate agents often play an important role in providing additional information as part of their marketing plans. The NNC also noted that journalists may review submissions from agents, conduct interviews, and undertake research from sources of publicly-available information.

The news organization informed the complainant that real estate articles are a matter of public interest, crafted with publicly available information, including photos publicly available on real estate websites. The news organization noted that they are considered fair use, as long as credit is given to the source, which was done in this particular case.

Upon review, the NNC noted that the examples of properties listed in the story were organized and identified by neighbourhood— not by specific street addresses. With regards to the complainant’s concerns about the use of photographs, the NNC noted that appropriate credit was given to the source. For these reasons, the NNC found no grounds to support a breach of journalistic standards in this case. (Case ID: 2022-61)


National NewsMedia Council releases new best practice guidelines for reporting on police and minor crime

The National NewsMedia Council (NNC) is pleased to announce the public release of its latest best practice guidelines for reporting on police and minor crime to reflect and further inform newsroom discussions on these issues.

The release of this report comes after several years of discussions between readers and news organizations about the public’s growing concerns surrounding the news value, and the long-term impact, for example, of being named in a news report on what could be considered a ‘minor’ crime. At the heart of these conversations were debates that were grounded in systemic issues of equality and police practices, as well as the impact of digital technology that have made the retrieval of past accusations, which were later dropped, more easily accessible through the internet.

Staff at the NNC, under the leadership of former executive director Pat Perkel, began researching, reviewing, and compiling guidance for its member publications on best practices several months ago. Research for this project included reviewing past writings on the subject, engaging with experts, and participating in professional discussion forums. 

In addition, the NNC also worked with multiple reporters and editors at Canadian news organizations to add both thoughtful insights and earn broad consensus on our findings. This report also provides a brief review of how news organizations in other democratic countries deal with similar issues.

As you are reading the NNC’s findings, please remember :

  • These best practices apply to reporting on minor crime and routine police news releases. They do not apply to reporting on major crime and trials. Likewise, they do not speak to cases where individuals have been convicted of crimes, nor do they advocate for ‘unpublishing.’
  • This guidance on best practices recognizes that choices on police and crime reporting may vary among newsrooms and even on a case-by-case basis depending on the community, the particulars of the story, and a host of journalistic choices for the newsroom to consider.
  • The objective is to promote discussion on this subject, and to encourage consideration of the news value and ramifications before naming a person accused of minor charges, as well as to aid newsrooms in refining or developing their own processes to limit undue harm or provide remedy where appropriate.

These best practices are designed to support newsroom discussion and consideration of a process to limit undue harm or provide remedy if warranted. There is no doubt that crime reporting is important in terms of safety, law enforcement and an open court system that includes accountable police forces and judiciary. At the same time, the NNC recognizes that journalistic choices on police and crime reporting will vary among newsrooms; on a case-by-case basis; or on the particulars of the story. These guidelines have been compiled with the intent to reflect and provide  thoughtful suggestions related to current reporting practices that could help address some instances of systemic and preventable harm to communities and individuals.

To read the full report, please click here.


Update from the Complaints Desk – July 14, 2022

The National NewsMedia Council (NNC) is an industry self-regulatory organization that receives and evaluates complaints about possible breaches of journalistic standards from members of the public against member news organizations. Another critical element of our organization’s mandate is to promote a news literate public that is aware of journalism’s critical role in a democratic society.     

In this latest dispatch from our complaints desk, you’ll find several summaries of recent reader complaints that the NNC has received and which have been addressed through corrective action by the news organization or through reader education about journalism standards and practices. 

Correcting out-of-date data in pandemic reporting

A reader expressed concern that an explainer article about COVID reinfection in New Brunswick inaccurately stated that reinfection was rare. 

The article cited provincial data on reinfection rates along with Canada’s 2021 communicable disease report to indicate that COVID reinfection was rare but still possible. However, the complainant pointed to more recent data from other provinces to support the fact that reinfection was more common than once thought. 

The news organization responded to the reader’s concerns about accuracy by updating the article to state that since the 2021 report, new variants and waning immunity against the virus have made reinfection more common. It also included an editor’s note to readers explaining the reason for the change. 

In this case, the NNC found that the news organization took appropriate steps to correct an error based on out-of-date data, and considered the matter resolved due to corrective action. (Case file: 2022-38)

Alerting readers to serious accuracy issues is critical 

An individual was concerned about how a news organization handled a correction in a story about their deceased family member.

The story stated that the complaint’s family member was charged with sexual harassment and assault. The complainant rightly pointed out, however, that the Crown had decided not to lay charges in the case. The day following the publication of the article, the news organization issued a correction on social media, and to its newsletter subscribers, noting the error. It also removed the story, “given the fundamental nature of the error.”

The NNC does not generally advocate for unpublishing content. However, in rare cases where changes to a piece are not sufficient to remedy serious journalistic errors, removing the article and alerting readers to the error may be an appropriate course of action.

In this case, the NNC found that the news organization’s steps to inform its audience of the error and remove the story constituted appropriate action to resolve the serious accuracy issue. For this reason, the NNC considered the matter resolved due to corrective action. (Case file: 2022-34)

(Not) just joking – deciphering reader columns that combine a range of content

A reader complained to the NNC with their concern that a regular column in a community newspaper was potentially spreading misinformation. 

The long-standing column in the local newspaper includes comments from readers on a range of subjects, in a range of styles, such as opinion and humour. In particular, the complainant was concerned with a comment noting “breaking news” that tech mogul Elon Musk had put in an offer to buy a local park in the community and “fix it up.”

On reading the column, the NNC noted that the statements were clearly satirical-style commentary not intended to be taken literally. For this reason, the NNC found no grounds to support a breach of the journalistic standard of accuracy. 

While the NNC emphasizes the importance of clearly labeling content for readers, it noted the long-accepted journalistic practice giving columnists and opinion writers wide latitude to express unpopular views, use strong language, and employ a variety of rhetorical tools, such as satire, as a means to persuade, entertain, or enlighten readers. (Case file: 2022-36) 

Online coverage of criminal charges and outcomes 

The NNC received a complaint from a reader, who had been subject to criminal charges, expressing concern that the news organization did not provide a follow-up story indicating those charges were later dismissed. 

Staff searched the publication’s archives and explained to the complainant the news organization had, in fact, written a follow-up story which stated the original charges had deen dropped. The complainant stated this story was not as prominently placed as the original article, indicating that charges had been laid, when they searched their name in Google. 

In this case, the NNC determined that the news organization followed accepted practices for covering criminal proceedings. That said, the NNC recommended to the news organization that future complaints about similar concerns could be mitigated by simply linking the original story to the follow-up, or updating the original reporting with the outcome of the charges. (Case file: 2022-29)


The National NewsMedia Council welcomes three new directors

The National NewsMedia Council (NNC) is pleased to announce it has confirmed three new directors to its board following its annual general meeting held last week. 

Two of the new directors are professional directors with editorial positions at their respective news organizations, and one director is a public director with expertise in the regulatory field.

Paul Samyn, the editor-in-chief of the Winnipeg Free Press, joins the NNC as an industry director on a one year term. Samyn has been part of the Free Press newsroom for more than a quarter century, working his way up after starting as a rookie reporter in 1988. He began his relationship with the Free Press as a boy delivering the newspaper in St. James, MB. As a reporter, he has written for every section, having covered elections, wars overseas and the funerals of a royal princess and a prime minister. Prior to returning to Manitoba, Samyn helped lead the Free Press’s political coverage for a decade as its Ottawa bureau chief. 

Philip Wolf, the managing editor for Black Press’s Vancouver Island Free Daily/PQB News, also joins the NNC as a professional director on a one year term. Wolf has been a journalist on Vancouver Island for more than 25 years. He began his career at the Cowichan Valley Citizen and was also previously the managing editor at the Nanaimo Daily News. 

Lucy Becker joins the NNC as a public director on a three-year term. Becker has an extensive background in the regulation of the investment, legal, health, and bereavement sectors. She currently serves as an adjudicator with the Ontario Physicians and Surgeons Discipline Tribunal, amongst a series of other advisory panels. She also volunteers as a Director for the Don Valley Community Legal Services, a legal aid clinic. Becker began her career as a journalist with the Ajax-Pickering News Advertiser and Oshawa-Whitby This Week in Ontario’s Durham Region.

The Council, and its staff, would like to extend its sincere thanks to outgoing directors Bob Cox, publisher of the Winnipeg Free Press, Ken Sims, former executive secretary of the Atlantic Press Council, and Tim Shoults from Kamloops This Week. All three were instrumental in the creation of the NNC as a national organization in 2015.  



Update from the Complaints Desk – May 5, 2022

All four complaints summarized in this latest ‘Update from the Complaints Desk’ relate to journalistic sourcing. 

NNC staff regularly hear from engaged readers who critique stories that appear in member publications for a variety of reasons, sometimes because the stories do not hear from certain sources or other times because they do not include specific research findings or examine particular angles. 

Council has long supported the view that journalists have the prerogative to select the story’s sources and scope. Standard journalistic practice calls for news organizations to report information with accuracy and precision, to demonstrate fairness, and to corroborate claims or allegations. While readers may find other sources to support their views, this, in itself, does not always constitute a breach of journalistic standards. 

Hearing the half of it: Accuracy in an audio story 

One individual expressed concern about an alleged inaccuracy in an episode of a podcast that covered the story of police arrests at a protest. The complainant cited information provided by the RCMP to government officials to support their claim. 

The NNC reviewed the episode in question and noted the story was corroborated by observations from witnesses at the scene, including those who were arrested. The host also presented the statements from law enforcement and asked the guests to respond. This aligns with standard journalistic practice. 

The NNC noted that the complainant did not first demonstrate a reasonable attempt to resolve their concerns with the news organization directly. That said, the NNC found no grounds to support a claim of inaccuracy. (2022-11)

What constitutes sufficient context in breaking news? 

An individual was concerned that a ‘breaking news’ article did not include sufficient context about the reason for a judge’s decision to grant bail to “Freedom Convoy” protest organizer Tamara Lich. 

The article included information about the reason that a bail review was launched but did not delve into the details of the legal reasons behind the judge’s decision to grant bail. Generally speaking, breaking news updates offer immediate information to readers on a story of importance. In this way, they are different from longer form pieces, such as features or analysis pieces. . 

In its review, the NNC found that the article in question presented a brief report about a new development in a matter of public interest at the time. The NNC found no evidence to support a breach of journalistic standards. (2022-23)

‘That’s not funny’: Concerns about story selection in the entertainment section 

One individual wrote to the NNC arguing that an article about the Ukrainian president’s background as a former comedian, which was published in the entertainment section of a newspaper, was inappropriate in light of the devastating effects of the war in Ukraine. 

In reviewing the article in question, the NNC noted that the article offered a closer look at the unique background and skillset of an international public figure and the impact such skills may have on his political ability and leadership style. 

The NNC found no evidence to support a breach of journalistic standards in this case, and emphasized that journalists may choose the focus of a story for a wide range of journalistic purposes, including offering elements of human interest or providing nuanced perspectives on a specific topic. (2022-26)

Staying within the story’s scope when drawing on specific scientific findings 

An individual expressed concern that an article in a series about domestic violence did not adequately represent men as victims. The complainant wished to see the findings of a particular research study included in the article. The study showed men were equally likely as women to experience a form of abusive behaviour called coercive control, but less likely to report it. 

The NNC agreed that stigma can play a major role in the decision to report an incident, and that may impact available data on a number of sensitive subjects. However, the failure to include a specific scientific finding does not indicate a breach of journalistic standards. News stories are not necessarily intended to offer or compare the results of an entire body of scientific evidence on a vast area of study or complex issue, such as domestic violence. 

In this case, the article heard from individuals who had personal experience with the issue, and cited data and information from professionals in the field, to communicate to readers the severity of the problem. 

The NNC found that the information cited by the complainant did not directly contradict the statements in the article and found no grounds to support a breach of journalistic standards. (2022-27)


Thank you, Tim!

The National NewsMedia Council (NNC) would like to express its most sincere gratitude to Tim Shoults, a stalwart of our organization and a tireless champion of community news, who will be departing our board on April 22, as he moves on to a new role outside of journalism.

Shoults has been one of the NNC’s professional directors since ‘Day One’. Prior to the creation of the NNC in 2015, he served as a director on the British Columbia Press Council. During his time with the NNC, Shoults was instrumental in helping to establish a cohesive national organization.

Since that ‘Day One’ he has served as the chair of the NNC’s finance committee and helped to ensure the Council remained on sound financial footing.

“We are very sad to see Tim depart our board where he has played such a dynamic role,” said board chair John Fraser, “but at the same time we congratulate him for taking on important new responsibilities in the medical and health field.”

Fraser added that Shoults fortified the NNC during its early days. “The good news is that he has promised to stay our friend and, when needed, adviser. On behalf of the board and staff at the NNC, I wish him and his wonderful family all the best and we send profound thanks for all the support he gave us.”

Earlier this week, Shoults penned a touching note on LinkedIn that reflects on nearly a quarter century in the community news business.

Two years ago, we profiled Shoults in our ongoing ‘Director’s Spotlight’ newsletter feature. You can read more about him here.

**UPDATE** Shortly after publishing, it was announced that Shoults, in conjunction with several of his colleagues at Kamloops This Week, had been selected as a finalist for the 2021 Michener Award for meritorious public service journalism.