Complaints we heard: Reader concerned about ‘bias’ in analytical article

Complaints we heard: Reader concerned about ‘bias’ in analytical article

The NNC reviewed a complaint about a feature article, “How Beijing’s Coverup Led to a Global Pandemic,” published in an April 2020 edition of the Epoch Times.

The complainant was concerned with the accuracy of statements in the article, in particular, with the premise, “Thus began the coverup by the Chinese Communist Party of one of the most deadly outbreaks in recent history.”

In reviewing the article in question, the NNC noted that it adhered to the journalistic conventions of investigative reporting and was consistent with a magazine feature providing in-depth analysis on a particular subject.

Widely-accepted journalistic practice encompasses analysis, in which a report contains a particular point of view supported by verifiable facts within the article. Analysis may be provided to give detail on widely-accepted issues, or to present material that is controversial, challenging, or new to wide attention.

In this case, the NNC found that the statement in question was supported by details contained within the article based on information from several sources, including reports by Chinese and international media as well as documents obtained by the Epoch Times.

Based on the information provided in the complaint, the NNC found no evidence of inaccuracy, and therefore no grounds for a breach of journalistic standards.

We understand that readers may have a different point of view on the matter and may look to other sources that support their perspective. This is the prerogative of readers. It is also the prerogative of journalists to select the sources they deem credible and to choose the focus of a piece.

Media freedom and freedom of expression means a variety of opinion and articles exploring facts and viewpoints will be published, including investigative or analytical articles written to present facts, views and context. A reader may accept or reject any of those points of view, but an article’s failure to change the reader’s mind does not in itself amount to a breach of journalistic standards.


What we heard: Mental Health Awareness Week reminds us of another way that words matter

The NNC receives complaints and queries from time to time about the appropriate use of language in news and opinion articles. Recent correspondence with a member of the public noted an issue with a particular headline and detailed concerns about how mental health issues were generally reported on in light of Mental Health Awareness Week, which runs until Saturday, October 12. You can check this page for quality treatments and care. Continue Reading



FYI Complaints We Heard: Explanatory journalism – July 9, 2019

The NNC mediates complaints and issues decisions on breaches of journalistic standards. In cases where there is no evidence of a breach, readers may still have questions about a journalistic issue. Part of what we do at the NNC is to provide explanations to those questions. Here are some of the issues we’ve heard and how we handled them.

JULY 9, 2019 – The National NewsMedia Council recently reviewed a detailed complaint about a February 18 2019 article that was published in a number of papers in the Niagara, Ontario area.

The article, “NAACP’s first meeting was held in Canada” originated through a collaboration between academics and journalists. The complainant stated the headline was is inaccurate because the NAACP was formed in 1909, while the meeting described was of the Niagara Movement, formed in 1905.

After careful review of the complaint, the article, and other materials submitted by the complainant, the NewsMedia Council noted that the first sentence of the article state the meeting was of “what would later become” the NAACP. In this light, the headline style and wording, used for brevity and relevance, was acceptable as accurate when supported by the facts related in the article itself.

Generally speaking, the article was in the category of an explanatory article. It was not a history of an organization, as the complainant viewed it, but instead was a look at an event held in Canada that involved the early days of an important American civil rights organization. The NewsMedia Council noted that it is the job of explanatory journalism to present information in a context and perspective that brings new understanding, or challenges the traditional story.

In the case of an article that looks back at notable events and historic times of social change, it is not unlikely or unreasonable that a reader may find other sources that dispute the article, or that a reader may disagree with the writer’s argument. However, it is the NewsMedia Council’s view that a reader’s difference of opinion or perspective from that of the writer does not in itself constitute a breach of journalistic standard.

Writers are free to select their sources and the focus of an article. It is reasonable that sources will differ and may even offer varying facts and context in matters of history. It is not the job of the NNC to determine which side is the correct version, but rather to ensure that the journalist adhered to principles including selecting and crediting sources, accuracy, context and opportunity for response.

For these reasons, the Council found no evidence of breach of journalistic standards and declined to take further action on the complaint in this case.


FYI Complaints We Heard: Distinguishing sponsored content from news – June 26, 2019

The NNC mediates complaints and issues decisions on breaches of journalistic standards. In cases where there is no evidence of a breach, readers may still have questions about a journalistic issue. Part of what we do at the NNC is to provide explanations to those questions. Here are some of the issues we’ve heard and how we handled them.

JUNE 26, 2019 – The National NewsMedia Council recently reviewed a complaint about a supplement in the May 6, 2019 Star Metro Vancouver.

The complainant raised questions about bias and labelling of the eight-page insert, and asked “why such publications can happen in Canada.”

NNC staff examined the print-only supplement and found it was clearly labeled on each page as a “Supplement to the Star Metro Vancouver.” Please see the image below for reference.

The term ‘supplement’ is widely understood as a publication with a secondary role—a separate section devoted to a special subject inserted into a publication that is produced independent from the newsroom. In that way, it is understood to be different from the news organization’s regular news coverage.

In addition to the top-of-page labelling as “supplement,” all but the first page had a clearly visible banner at the bottom of the page stating “Information office of Qindao Municipal People’s Government.” It was the view of NNC staff that a reasonable reader would understand that the banner would indicate the sponsor of the supplement and its content.

In reviewing the articles in the supplement, it was readily apparent that the varied topics focused on development, events, and industry in the city of Quindao, China. The writing was promotional in nature, as would be expected in a sponsored supplement.

The image above shows the appropriately labelled supplement to the May 6, 2019, Star Metro Vancouver for reference. Text is intentionally blurred.

The NNC found that while the material in the supplement was highly focused, it is not required to meet the test for bias. The writing did not show evidence of attempt to deceive or defraud. Presenting material with a strong focus on one side of a product or event, while unacceptable in news reporting, is not a breach of standards for sponsored content.

The NNC’s mandate is to ensure that news and opinion writing is clearly distinguished from advertising and sponsored content. In this case, best practice was followed as the content was in a separate section, labelled at the top of the page as a supplement, and the source of the sponsored content was identified at the bottom of each page.

For these reasons, the NNC found Star Metro was responsible about distinguishing sponsored content from news and found no breach of journalistic standards.

The basis for the complainant’s question about why the publication was allowed was not clarified and in any case the NNC does not comment on a member’s choice of editorial or advertising content.

However, it is important to note that Canada’s Charter of Rights protects freedom of expression and media freedom, which includes the freedom to receive information.