Checking our Work: Bringing Global Lessons Home

As the only media council in North America, the NNC checks with peers in Europe and Australia to monitor emerging issues and evolving standards in journalism.

In that light, a recent speech by Neville Stevens, chair of the Australian Press Council, highlights some issues that might resonate with members of the Canadian news industry.

“Accountability requires quality journalism that has the trust of the community,” Stevens says in a refrain that will ring familiar. “It is the local media—the suburban or country town newspapers—that can really cover local issues”.

The public expects a responsible media that adheres to high standards of journalistic standards and ethics, and Stevens notes the Australian Press Council “through its standards of practice, has enshrined and promoted good journalistic practice.”

The NNC is unlike other press councils in that it does not have its own standards of practice, but is dedicated to ensuring that members follow their own codes and widely accepted journalistic practices and ethics. At the same time, the NNC reflects current needs by being ‘platform agnostic’, meaning that whether in print or online, it upholds rigorous journalistic standards and ethics. In Canada as in Australia or Europe, membership in a press council can enhance public trust that quality journalism is at work.

A core function of a self-regulatory body is to be an alternative to regulation. In Australia, like Canada, Stevens notes that “Publishers rightly resist government regulation”, but says the flip side is the “need to be aware of the risk of governments resorting to excessive regulation which may use the acknowledged dangers of false or manipulated information as a pretext to stifle press freedom.” Australia’s parliament has drafted concerning security legislation, while in Canada ‘national security’ and access to information are issues. Both examples point to the vital job of ensuring media freedom.

Stevens notes an “increasing tendency for people who don’t like the reporting to try and discredit it by labelling it as fake news, even where it originates from reputable sources and may be completely accurate.” A similar effect has been noted by the NNC, which often defends the right of journalists to tell the story in spite of those who dismiss or want suppression of facts they don’t like.

Globalization, or how to respond to complaints about reporting originating outside the country and carried by local media, is an issue the Australian Press Council is examining.  The NNC addressed the matter in a position paper on third party content, and otherwise follows the same practice as the APC in holding the publisher responsible for content it publishes.

Stevens notes that the core business of complaints-handling allows the public access to an independent forum, and is an alternative to defamation action. The NNC promotes the same core business, and agrees the process underpins quality journalism. Both the APC and the NNC give each complaint thorough consideration, even in cases that are dismissed for lack of evidence of a breach of journalistic standards. It’s worth noting the Australian process takes five weeks to consider a complaint and eight months for adjudication. The NNC considers complaints within an average of three weeks and adjudicates within three months. We believe the NNC is meeting or exceeding international standards, and will work with members and the public to keep that bar high for the sake of excellent journalism and the public interest.