2023-66: Kong v Goldstream Gazette & 2023-76: Kong v Times-Colonist

2023-66: Kong v Goldstream Gazette & 2023-76: Kong v Times-Colonist

January 29, 2024for immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council (NNC) dismissed two complaints from the same complainant about the accuracy of similar articles published by different media organizations.

The first article was published in the July 13, 2023 of the Goldstream Gazette under the headline, “Federal bank clarifies it is not funding West Shore battery train pilot”. The second article was published in the July 25, 2023 issue of the Victoria Times-Colonist under the headline, “West Shore light rail pilot project dogged by funding rejection, lack of viable test sites.”

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2023-117: Multiple v Toronto Sun

January 9, 2024 – for immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council (NNC) found that corrective action was taken to address a complaint about a syndicated cartoon published by the Toronto Sun on December 20, 2023.

The NNC received more than two dozen complaints about a cartoon that depicted the Ukrainian President picking the pocket of the U.S. President.

Complainants pointed out that the cartoon used antisemitic stereotypes and inaccurately characterized Ukraine war efforts.

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2023-83: Fiegehen v Soo Today

December 10, 2023 – for immediate release 

The National NewsMedia Council (NNC) has considered and found that corrective action was taken to address a complaint about graphic content in an image accompanying a September 18, 2023, news article published by Soo Today.

The article reported on a bail hearing for an individual charged with attempted murder and murder. The article included an image of the accused with a caption noting that the photo was submitted by a reader.

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2023-54: Shair v Kingston Whig Standard

November 2, 2023 – for immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council has considered and upheld a complaint about the unpublishing of an article by the Kingston Whig Standard.

The May 12, 2023, news brief, “Vigil marks 75th anniversary of Palestinian displacement,” provided details on an upcoming event organized by a Palestinian support group in Kingston, Ontario. The original headline contained the word “expulsion” instead of “displacement.”

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2023-64: G.H. v Queen’s Journal

September 19, 2023 – for immediate release

As this complaint contains sensitive information, the NNC has withheld the names of the complainants in this case.

The National NewsMedia Council has considered and dismissed a complaint against the Queen’s Journal about publishing sensitive and potentially identifying information in a news article.

The article reported that a university student had been arrested for trespassing. It stated that the student, who was not named in the article, alleged that the university banned her from a campus building instead of accommodating her disability.

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2023-43: Markus v Toronto Sun

August 28, 2023 – for immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council considered and dismissed a complaint about accuracy in an opinion article, “Striking PSAC workers still cashing in,” published by the Toronto Sun.

The column argued, “Continuing to pay workers during the time they’re on the picket line (and workers who expect to be paid their usual wages with striking) defeats the whole point of collective bargaining and striking.”

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2023-30: Kong v New Canadian Media

July 17, 2023 – for immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council (NNC) considered and found that corrective action was taken to address a reader complaint about an August 30, 2022 news article, “Minority groups say they are tired of apologies that are more spectacle than action,” published by New Canadian Media.

The article focused on the importance of building solidarity among marginalized groups in an effort to pressure institutions into combating systemic oppression. The article followed the Papal apology for the Catholic Church’s long-standing role in supporting the residential school system.

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2023-35: Browne v Ottawa Citizen

July 6, 2023 – for immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council considered and found that corrective action was taken to address a complaint about a March 30, 2023, news article, “Forgery charge withdrawn against consultant who led community consultations for new police chief,” published by the Ottawa Citizen.

The article reported that charges were withdrawn against an individual following his completion of a diversion program that included volunteer work, a charitable donation, and a written letter of apology. The forgery charges were the result of a private prosecution process.

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2023-32: Pridham v Tri-Cities Dispatch

June 26, 2023 – for immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council has considered and found that corrective action was taken to address a complaint about accuracy and the opportunity to respond to statements in a March 14, 2023, article published by the Tri-Cities Dispatch.

The article reported that a B.C.-based company was fined by the province for failing to comply with recycling regulations. The headline reads, “‘I’ll be going to jail before I comply;’ Coquitlam-based KMS Tools & Equipment fined $19,000 for refusal to comply with recycling regulation.”

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2023-23: Bueckert v National Post

April 21, 2023 – for immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council found that corrective action was taken to address a complaint about issues of accuracy and insensitive language use in a March 3, 2023 opinion column, “The West keeps subsidizing the Palestinian Authority’s death culture,” published by the National Post.

Michael Bueckert, vice president of the Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East, filed a complaint with the NNC about the column’s use of the terms “terrorism” and “death culture” in its argument that “the West is subsidizing the Palestinian Authority to destabilize Israel.”

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2023-14: Latif v Waterloo Region Record

April 4, 2023 – for immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council has considered and found that corrective action has been taken to address a complaint alleging that statements in a February 1, 2023, article, “A Kitchener school has cancelled Valentine’s Day. Is it time for an ‘evolution’ of the day of love?” published by the Waterloo Region Record, perpetuate harmful stereotypes about Muslims and immigrants.

The article reported that a Kitchener, Ontario, elementary school would not be celebrating Valentine’s Day this year. The article provided context on the history of Valentine’s Day as well as current perspectives on the holiday, noting that some foreign governments have banned celebrations.

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2022-84: Singh v Globe and Mail

March 28, 2023 – for immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council has dismissed a complaint about the accuracy of a photo cutline that appeared alongside a November 28, 2022 news story “India’s envoy calls on Canada to crack down on Canadian funding of Khalistan separatist movement,” published by The Globe and Mail.

Jasveer Singh filed a complaint stating the photo’s cutline was improperly edited and removed critical context around Sikh support for Khalistan and the use of “anti-government slogans.”

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2023-08: Penna v Toronto Star

March 17, 2023 – for immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council dismissed a complaint about accuracy in a November 24, 2022, editorial, “A welcome step in the climate fight,” published by the Toronto Star.

The editorial argued that an international agreement to help developing countries deal with the devastating effects of climate change was a “landmark victory,” but cautioned that action must be taken quickly and collectively to address a changing climate and its impact on vulnerable nations.

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2023-10: Coakley v Hamilton Spectator

February 28, 2023 – for immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council found that corrective action was taken to address a concern about accuracy in a January 19, 2023, obituary, “Rabbi Bernard Baskin, Hamilton’s wise man, dies at 102,” published by the Hamilton Spectator.

Mark Coakley filed a complaint with the NNC stating concern that the article inaccurately referred to the late Rabbi Baskin as having lived in the Hamilton, Ontario, neighbourhood of Westdale. The complainant pointed out that the rabbi’s long-time residence was in fact located in the nearby neighbourhood of Ainslie Wood.

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2022-79: White v Toronto Star

February 1, 2023 – for immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council dismissed a complaint about accuracy and reporting on sensitive issues in a November 21, 2022, news article, “New Democratic MPP Joel Harden under fire for antisemitic comments,” published by the Toronto Star.

The article reported on an Ontario Member of Provincial Parliament who had apologized for antisemitic comments. Jeff White filed a complaint stating that the article inaccurately conflated criticism of the Israeli government with antisemitism.

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2022-71: Heywood v Vancouver Sun

January 31, 2023 – for immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council dismissed a complaint about accuracy in an October 13, 2022, article, “North Vancouver Election 2022: Traffic congestion, development dominate debate,” published by the Vancouver Sun.

The article outlined key issues ahead of the municipal elections for Vancouver’s North Shore communities, including debate surrounding housing, infrastructure, and taxes.

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2022-62: Robinson-Houweling v Northern News Services Ltd.

December 10, 2022 – – for immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council considered and dismissed a complaint about the identification of a witness in a September 21, 2022, news article, “Eyewitness gives account of homicide at Aurora Pointe,” published by Northern News Services Ltd.

The article reported on a fatal incident at a Yellowknife apartment complex. It included an account of the incident from a witness at the scene.

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2022-47: Fantino v Globe and Mail

December 19, 2022 – – for immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council found that corrective action was taken to address a complaint about
accuracy in a May 9, 2022, obituary, “Gifted magazine writer Gerald Hannon was no stranger to
controversy,” published by the Globe and Mail.

The obituary recounted a number of stories penned by the deceased magazine writer, including a 1995
Globe and Mail feature, “The Kiddie Porn Ring That Wasn’t,” about an investigation into a child
pornography ring in London, Ontario.

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2022-65: Regier v National Post

November 22, 2022 – for immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council has considered and dismissed a complaint about a lack of disclosure regarding a conflict of interest in an August 13, 2022, opinion column, “Donald Trump will be a successful president again,” published by the National Post.

In his column, Conrad Black argued that the former U.S. president was a “very effective and successful president and will probably be so again,” despite attempts to “derail him by manipulating the rancidly corrupt American criminal justice system.”

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2022-68: Harrison v SooToday

November 8, 2022 – for immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council has dismissed a complaint about use of sensitive photographs in an October 3, 2022, article, “Fatality reported in weekend Highway 17 crash,” published by SooToday.

The article reported on a three-vehicle collision that resulted in the death of an 81-year-old man. Aerial photographs showed the damaged vehicles and first responders at the scene of the accident.

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2022-20: Huyer vs Toronto Sun

May 7, 2022 – for immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council has considered and upheld a complaint about an issue of accuracy in a February 18, 2022 article “Emergencies Act regulations ban protests except for Indigenous or refugees,” published by the Toronto Sun.

The article stated that specific groups of people, including Indigenous peoples and refugees, were exempt from the prohibition on participating in banned protests as part of the federal government’s activation of the Emergencies Act. In particular, the article states that “Under the provisions of the Emergencies Act invoked by the Trudeau government, protests can be banned in certain areas and for most people — but not for First Nations or refugees to Canada.”

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2022-28: Lopes vs Voice of Pelham

April 14, 2022 – for immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council dismissed a complaint about bias and the use of inappropriate language in a March 20 letter to the editor published by the Voice of Pelham.

The letter was published in response to an opinion column that argued that the Canadian flag had been “captured” by protesters during the recent “Freedom Convoy” in Ottawa. The letter writer praised the column and expressed strongly-worded criticism against the protesters.

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2021-99: Holota vs New Canadian Media

March 8, 2022 – for immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council has considered and upheld a complaint about inaccuracy and lack of opportunity to respond to harmful allegations in a December 12, 2021, article, “BIPOC reporter narrates perils of working alone in rural Canada,” published by New Canadian Media.

The article presented the challenges faced by a BIPOC journalist working as an editor and reporter in a small community. In the story, he describes being subjected to vitriolic comments by anti-vaccine proponents, with some relating to race, and recounts his experience reporting his concerns to his employer—regional newspaper chain, Black Press Media—and in particular, editorial director Andrew Holota.

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2021-86: Doherty vs Thamesville Herald

December 30, 2021 – for immediate release

 

The National NewsMedia Council has reviewed and dismissed a complaint about an October 8, 2021, image published on the Thamesville Herald’s Facebook page.

The image depicted the aftermath of a vehicle collision that had taken place earlier that day. The image showed a tow truck, rescue vehicles that had arrived on scene, and a distant view of a vehicle involved in the crash. It carried the caption, “One believed dead after crash on Baseline,” and a brief description of the incident, indicating the road closure.

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2021-79: Yonson vs Ottawa Citizen

November 18, 2021 – for immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council has reviewed and found corrective action was taken to address a complaint about an inaccurate statement in a September 22 opinion column, “Status quo election shows Canada is not a divided nation,” published by the Ottawa Citizen.

The opinion column argued that the recent election was “pointless” and reflected Canadians’ satisfaction with the “status quo.”

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2021-64: Morgan vs Northern Sentinel

September 9, 2021 – for immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council reviewed and dismissed a complaint about the naming of a minor in a June 18, 2021, news article published by the Northern Sentinel.

The article reported on a pride flag ceremony hosted by the RCMP in honour of a 15-year-old transgender student who died earlier that month. The article reported that the event aimed to promote diversity and inclusion, and included quotes from speakers and attendees, including a First Nations chief councillor and the deceased individual’s step-father.

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2021-60: Poulin vs Canadaland

August 20, 2021 – for immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council has reviewed and dismissed a complaint about the labelling, balance and anonymous nature of a May 19, 2021 opinion article “How Bilingualism Promotes the Mediocre,” published by Canadaland.

The opinion column was critical of the federal government’s hiring practices by arguing that official bilingualism unfairly determines the career prospects of public servants based solely on their ability to speak both of Canada’s official languages to a determined level of fluency. The opinion writer specifically identified how non-French speaking people are “de-selected” from working for the federal public service.

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2021-51: Blair, et al. vs Toronto Sun

June 11, 2021 – for immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council has dismissed with reservation a complaint about accuracy in a May 14, 2021 opinion article, “Family left with questions after Brampton senior’s death,” published by the Toronto Sun.

The opinion article told the story of an individual who died after receiving a vaccination against COVID-19. The column calls for a coroner’s inquest into the individual’s death, which was attributed to COVID-19. It includes statements from the deceased individual’s son.

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2021-48: Smith vs Vancouver Sun

May 25, 2021 – for immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council has reviewed and dismissed a complaint about potential negative impact on individuals living with post-traumatic stress disorder based on an April 21, 2021, article, “Off-duty paramedic with PTSD avoids criminal record for dangerous driving,” published by the Vancouver Sun/Province.

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2021-30: Rahman vs National Post

May 4, 2021 – for immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council has dismissed with reservation a complaint that a March 10, 2021, opinion column, “Should one company really be able to dictate which Dr. Seuss books we can read?” in the National Post was inaccurate and promoted racist and harmful viewpoints.

The opinion article dealt with the decision to cease publication of certain Dr. Seuss books that contain racial caricatures. The article also addressed copyright law and the freedom for readers to access contentious pieces of literature.

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2021-21: McGregor vs Epoch Times

April 12, 2021 – for immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council mediated and found that corrective action was taken to address a complaint about the accuracy of a December 16, 2020, news article, “Money From Facebook’s Zuckerberg Used to Undermine Election, Violate Law: Report,” published by the Epoch Times.

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2021-23: McCurdy vs National Post

April 7, 2021 – for immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council has dismissed with reservation a complaint about accuracy in a February 18, 2021, opinion article, “As Texas winter storm shows, hurling public money at renewable energy is pure folly,” published by the National Post.

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2020-81: Kagan vs Toronto Life

March 10, 2021 – for immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council considered and dismissed a complaint about journalistic misrepresentation and accuracy in a November 1, 2020, article “The tragic end of a vicious divorce,” published by Toronto Life.

The magazine article told of the death of a four-year-old girl, who was found dead at the bottom of a cliff alongside her father. The divorced parents had been in a lengthy custody dispute, and the article described how the demise of the relationship revealed disturbing behaviour by the father. It also focused on the shortcomings of the court system in handling custody disputes. It included information obtained through interviews with the mother of the child and court documents.

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2021-09: Kulak vs Kamsack Times

February 10, 2021 – for immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council mediated and found that corrective action was taken to address a complaint about use of language in an article, “Local family overwhelmed by support from around the world,” published in the January 13, 2021 edition of the Kamsack Times.

The complainant, Chris Kulak, objected to the description of his family heritage and that the publication interviewed his 10-year-old daughter without consulting her parents. He described the majority of the article as a positive report about the outpouring of support toward his daughter, a young Indigenous child, who had been shamed by a staff person at her school for wearing a traditional ribbon skirt to school. However, he held the view that the article’s factual inaccuracy and use of inappropriate language in describing the family heritage revealed systemic racism. Continue Reading


2021-11: E.F. vs Simcoe Reformer

February 12, 2021 – for immediate release

The NewsMedia Council mediated and found that corrective action was taken to address a complaint about the disclosure of personal information and an identifying photograph in a January 20, 2021, article published by the Simcoe Reformer.

The article reported that local police had responded to an incident at a residence, which involved several road closures. The story included an identifying photo as well as direct quotes from an officer noting that concerns about a person’s mental health played a role in the police response. Continue Reading


2020-75: Tedds vs Toronto Sun

January 29, 2021 – for immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council has considered and upheld a complaint about accuracy in a November 18, 2020, article, “Audit demanded after more than 800,000 ineligible people get CERB,” published in the Toronto Sun. Continue Reading


2020-79: Andres vs Niagara This Week

January 20, 2021 – for immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council has dismissed a complaint that a September 18, 2020 article “On a Quest, bringing health care to migrant farm workers” published by Niagara This Week violated privacy by publishing a farm worker’s personal and medical information without his informed consent. Continue Reading


2020-82: Hicks vs Voice of Pelham

January 14, 2021- for immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council has dismissed a complaint alleging disregard for a person’s right to privacy stemming from the publication of a November 25, 2020 article “Compassion not cash urged for panhandler” by the Voice of Pelham. Continue Reading


2020-63: Baskin vs Uxbridge Cosmos

September 30, 2020 – for immediate release

The NNC has reviewed and found that corrective action has been taken to address a complaint about accuracy and the opportunity to respond to harmful allegations in a September 10 news story, “Goodwood concerts spark ire and accusations,” published in the Uxbridge Cosmos.

The article described the apparent controversy surrounding a series of social gatherings in the area, including a wedding reception, and said that according to the owner of the event management company, organizers received threats from local officials and residents to shut down the reception.

The article included references to social media comments from the mayor in response to accusations of racism. It also included quoted statements from the company owner/event planner and township officials. Colleen Baskin, the complainant, was identified in the article as the township’s communications officer and was quoted as stating, “the Township vehemently denies that the investigation on this file was motivated by racial prejudice.”

Ms. Baskin filed a complaint with the NNC about how the article represented her, and the township’s, response to the events. In particular, she argued that statements from the event planner, which implied that she was present at the event and that she committed racially-motivated verbal and physical assault, were unfounded. She also stated that she was unable to directly refute the allegations made about her behaviour as she was unaware of the specific allegations prior to providing her response to the newspaper.

The complainant wrote a letter to the editor explaining that she was not present at the residence in question, nor did she engage in any threatening behaviour. The letter also stated that the quoted statement attributed to her in the original article was misleading because it implied she was physically present at the residence.

The Uxbridge Cosmos published Ms. Baskin’s letter in the September 17 edition of the newspaper.

In response to the complaint, the news media organization stated that the social media comments regarding the accusations against the township and the township’s response to those comments provided sufficient evidence that local officials were well aware of the accusations. It also noted that the official response from the township specifically addressed any accusations of racial prejudice.

The NNC is of the view that news media organizations have the prerogative to select and paraphrase statements as appropriate. Standard journalistic practice allows for reasonable opportunity to respond to harmful allegations.

In reviewing the complaint and article, the NNC noted that the statements in question were properly attributed to the owner of the events management company as allegations. The NNC is of the view that the published quotes from township officials indicate that officials were aware of the allegations, and do not imply that local officials were present at the event.

With regard to the complainant’s concerns about fair opportunity to respond to harmful statements, the article in question contained an official response strongly refuting the allegation of racial bias. It is journalism’s job to present both sides in a contentious situation in order that a reasonable reader can be fairly informed.

In this case, the NNC is of the view that the article presented both the event owner’s allegations and the response from the mayor and municipal office. It is not the job of journalism to settle a dispute. The news organization’s decision to publish the complainant’s letter to the editor represented an opportunity for the complainant to provide further comment and to clarify her perspective on the allegations.

In light of the above, the NNC finds corrective action has been taken and there are no grounds for further action on this complaint.


2020-62: Quaiattini vs Newmarket Today

September 29, 2020 – for immediate release

The NNC has reviewed and dismissed a two-part complaint about a March 4, 2019 news article “Driver found asleep at the wheel after vehicle veers into field,” published by Newmarket Today. The first part of the complaint focused on specific details included in the story. The second part of the complaint expressed concern that the article’s headline was not appropriate. Continue Reading


2020-59: Miller vs Vernon Morning Star

September 16, 2020 – For immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council has reviewed a complaint and considers corrective action has been taken by the Vernon Morning Star regarding a September 3, 2020 article under the headline “Small dog attacked by pit bull at Salmon Arm beach”. Continue Reading


2020-48: C.D. vs The Canadian Press

July 17, 2020 – for immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council has found that corrective action was taken to address a complaint about accuracy and information that could identify an individual in a June 6, 2020, news article by the Canadian Press.

The article reported on the impact of COVID-19 within federal institutions, in particular, the concerns over the level of violence due to lockdowns and restrictions on services that have been imposed on inmates. The article included statements and information from two women whose husbands were incarcerated. Continue Reading


2020-43: Mondoux vs Toronto Sun

July 10, 2020 – for immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council considered and found that corrective action was taken to address a complaint about a headline in a May 28, 2020, edition of the Toronto Sun.

The newspaper published the front-page headline, “Who made Houdini vanish.” The article reported the recent death of Toronto rapper Dimarjio Jenkins, who performed under the name Houdini, and noted the increased incidence of shootings in the city. Continue Reading


2020-37: Hermanson vs Kamloops Daily News

June 11, 2020 – for immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council finds corrective action has been taken on a complaint about accuracy in a court news report in a March 14, 2013 edition of the Kamloops Daily News.

Chris Hermanson filed a complaint with the National NewsMedia Council stating that the article, which was a brief about a charge of marijuana possession, was inaccurate in describing the amount of and purpose for the marijuana. He also pointed out that possession is now legal and asked that the online article be removed. Continue Reading


2020-40: McMurtry vs Toronto Star

June 12, 2020 – for immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council has considered and dismissed a complaint about a May 24 opinion column, “(Mostly) white covidiots at Trinity Bellwoods Park think the rules don’t apply to them. They’re right,” published in the Toronto Star.

The opinion column pointed to an apparent lack of enforcement of social distancing rules despite large gatherings that occurred in a Toronto park over the previous weekend. It argued that had the gatherings in the park been largely attended by people of colour, instead of mainly white people, “we’d be having a very different conversation today.” Continue Reading


2020-36: Qureshi vs Toronto Sun

June 15, 2020 – for immediate release

The NewsMedia Council has dismissed a complaint about the accuracy of a term in an opinion article in the November 21, 2019 edition of the Toronto Sun.

Saqib Qureshi, the complainant, stated the use of the term Ghazwa-e-Hind is “unfair, unethical and misrepresentative,” and stated that he twice chronicled these arguments in letters to the editor of the Toronto Sun. Copies of those letters, dated December 1, 2019 and March 2, 2020, were provided to the NNC and forwarded by the NNC to the Toronto Sun with the complaint and a request for the Sun’s response.

The NewsMedia Council normally considers complaints about news and opinion pieces within one month of publication.

Given that the complainant promptly communicated with the Toronto Sun following publication of the article and followed up on that correspondence, the NewsMedia Council followed standard procedure in requesting a response from the news media organization.

The news organization responded to the complaint by stating that the column is the writer’s opinion on an issue. It also said that it is open to receiving letters from those with differing perspective, and suggested a letter be submitted for consideration.

The complainant rejected the offer to submit a letter, saying it was not adequate considering the “seriousness and gravity of the original opinion column”. The complainant, instead, requested a full-page apology from the news organization.

The NewsMedia Council supports the wide latitude of opinion and editorial writers to express strong or unpopular points of view. It also upholds the prerogative of a journalist to select credible sources and for an opinion writer to focus on one aspect of an issue. The NNC recognizes that the job of an opinion writer is to engage, or even provoke the reader, and to present material that is controversial, challenging, or new. At the same time, the NNC upholds the standard that opinions must be based on facts.

The complaint centres on accurate meaning of Ghazwa-e-Hind. In his submission, the complainant stated that “the majority of scholars” agree the term’s understanding as a broad call to action is fabricated, misapplied or inauthentic. The readily understood implication of the complainant’s statement is that likewise, some scholars do not agree with that view.

It is not unlikely or unreasonable that a reader may find other sources that dispute an article or definition. Likewise, a reader may disagree with the writer’s argument and read arguments or statements through a different lens.

It is also recognized that differing points of view around religion and politics are highly contentious. The NNC notes that caution should be employed when using controversial terms to describe identifiable or at-risk groups, particularly given the current polarized political and social environment.

That said, it is not the NNC’s task to make a definitive judgment on a term that is subject to debate and appears to be under shifting understanding. The NNC is responsible, however, for making a judgment on potential breaches of journalistic standards.

In this case, the NNC is of the view that the news organization’s offer to publish a letter to the editor provides an adequate opportunity to address controversy around the term. Letters to the editor are a valuable way to provide differing perspectives within the community, or points of view that differ from those reflected in news or opinion columns.

To that end, the NNC finds the offer of a letter to the editor is a reasonable means of corrective action to address the concerns raised.

The NNC does not demand apologies on the part of its members. Moreover, it finds the request for a full-page apology to be unreasonable.

For the above reasons, we find the complaint resolved due to corrective action and will consider the file closed.


2020-32: Beatty vs Kamloops This Week

June 10, 2020 – for immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council has mediated and dismissed a complaint about irresponsible reporting on a sensitive issue in a May 7, 2020 article in Kamloops This Week.

Complainant Marvin Beatty said the sentence “Between January 2018 and June 2019, (a person) was the subject of five police missing persons press releases and was found safe each time” was irrelevant. He stated that the subject was an Indigenous person and for that reason it was ‘insensitive’ or ‘opinion’ to report the number of times the person had been missing. Continue Reading


2020-03: Morrison vs Toronto Sun

March 16, 2020 – for immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council has upheld a complaint that a January 5, 2020 Toronto Sun opinion article “Lilley: NDP MPPs sing and chant as dead terrorist honoured,” inaccurately described a rally attended by two members of the Ontario legislature.

The complainant, Erin Morrison, who works for Ontario’s New Democratic Party, stated that the opinion article inaccurately described and misrepresented the context surrounding a public protest outside the U.S. Consulate in Toronto. She said the protest was to oppose U.S. aggression that resulted in the death of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in a U.S. military strike. The complainant stated that the article unfairly accused two NDP MPPs of supporting terrorist organizations, of mourning Soleimani’s death, and of standing with Hezbollah flags at the protest.

The Toronto Sun responded by saying that the statements in question were factual, or part factual, and fair comment. It also pointed out that the article in question was an opinion column.

The NewsMedia Council supports the wide latitude of opinion writers to present provocative points of view, and to express themselves in strong language. However, the NNC has consistently held that the facts on which opinions are based must be accurate.

The news organization relied on fair comment as defense of several points. In the NNC’s view, fair comment in journalism must meet the conditions of being honest opinion in the public interest, presented without malice, and based on provable facts presented in the story.

The MPPs’ attendance at the event is not contested. The complaint centres on the reported purpose of the event and the characterization of the MPPs’ involvement in that event. Specifically, the complainant objected to the characterization of two members of provincial parliament as supporters of terrorist organizations, and that they mourned and honoured Soleimani.

In its review, the NNC found the tweets published by the MPPs and used in the article conveyed that they attended the protest to express an “anti-war” point of view and a position against “aggression.” The NDP statement as quoted in the article described the event as a peace rally.

There was no evidence reported in the article to support the statement that the MPPs were anti-American, or that they mourned the death of Soleimani.

The complainant also disputed that the MPPs intentionally stood by, or supported, the Hezbollah flag-carriers, and cited a quote from the NDP that denied any association between the MPPs and the unknown flag carrier.

The news media organization did not provide information to support its description of the MPPs’ intent in attending the rally. Its response pointed to guilt by association, based on the presence of individuals at a counter-rally, whose presence the MPPs had no ability to control.

It is worth noting that interviewing or reporting counter protesters at a rally is accepted journalistic practice. In this case, however, the writer stated the intent of individuals based on the actions of those in their proximity, and conflated anti-war and pro-terrorist sentiment. Facts by way of quotes and tweets reported did not support the writer’s characterization of the event or of the MPPs’ attendance.

The news media organization’s response appeared to conflate an anti-war position with anti-American sentiment, and to equate concern about military escalation with honouring a dead leader. In this case, the conflation resulted in a report that coloured the reader’s understanding of the primary nature of the event.

It is the NNC’s view that read as a whole, the article failed to accurately describe the event and facts reported did not accurately characterize the MPPs’ attendance.

For the above reasons, the NNC upholds the complaint.


2020-20: Jaswal vs Prince George Citizen

March 12, 2020 – for immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council has dismissed a complaint about a letter to the editor published in the February 27, 2020 edition of the Prince George Citizen.

Complainant Olivia Jaswal said the letter, “Racist Confession”, was a blatant, racist rant that should not have been given a platform. She said publishing the letter was especially concerning given cases of violence against Indigenous people.

The Prince George Citizen responded by saying the paper’s goal is to show the community as it is. It made clear that it does not condone the views of letter writers, but offers the platform to all viewpoints as its professional responsibility to allow people to speak out, within the limits of libel and hate speech laws.

The NNC recognizes that the letters to the editor section is a traditional part of any newspaper. It supports the widely-held view of letters to the editor as a venue for public comment on current events and community issues, to applaud or criticize public institutions, or serve as a gauge of public opinion.

Letters themselves are not held to journalistic standards, as they are not produced by journalists and are generally not edited as a news or opinion article would be edited. Nonetheless, the NNC’s view is that a news media organization is responsible for the content it publishes.

While the complainant described the letter in question as a “rant”, the NNC did not find evidence to support that view. The writer described making effort to understand a different point of view, was clear that he does not condone the “terrible things” related to residential schools, and stated that he came to his point of view “sadly and without pride”. There was no evidence that the letter writer or language used incited hatred or advocated any action.

In reviewing the complaint, the NNC found the Prince George Citizen letters to the editor section contained two letters that took the writer to task for his argument and made the case for an opposite point of view. Also published were letters for and against renaming a school, and commenting on regional and municipal ventures.

The NNC’s view is that the scope of letters to the editor and varied points of view indicates that the Prince George Citizen was fulfilling its role as a community newspaper by giving space to citizens to make an argument or state a position, and at the same time giving space to those with a differing view to rebut, argue or state an alternate position. While the NNC does not condone the content of the letter to the editor, it finds that letter writers, like opinion writers, have wide latitude to express views that may be hurtful or offensive.

For the above reasons, the NNC dismissed the complaint.

The NNC is mindful of ongoing controversy over local and national land and protest issues, and about the impact of inflammatory statements in a time of heightened emotion and polarized opinion. At the same time, it upholds the media’s role as a platform for frank, democratic discussion.


2020-06: Kinahan vs Toronto Sun

March 9, 2020 – for immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council has dismissed a complaint about misleading characterization in an opinion article published on January 15, 2020 in the Toronto Sun.

Complainant Gord Kinahan objected to the use of a particular individual as a source in an opinion article, “WARMINGTON: Teachers must stop holding students hostage.” The article featured an interview and comments from a person who opposed the Ontario teacher strikes and supported a stronger government stand. The interviewee was described as a family man and owner of a small business, who “leans conservative but supported the federal Liberals during the era when Jean Chretien and Paul Martin were prime ministers.” The article stated many like him are displeased with teachers’ job action.

The complainant did not argue with facts stated in the article, but said the description of the interviewee was misleading because it omitted information that the person featured was an active partisan who supported the education minister’s election campaign. He said the article failed to note information on social media posts and online evidence about the interviewee’s campaign activity, and described that information as pertinent to the context of the story.

The Toronto Sun denied knowledge of the interviewee’s political activism for the Conservative party, and said he was chosen for the article because he was the only parent among several interviewed willing to be named. It also said it subsequently checked with the education minister’s office, which denied knowledge of, or contributions from the interviewee.

The news organization discounted the reported social media postings, stating that politicians taking photos with voters is a common practice, and defended the opinion writer’s point of view and accuracy.

The NewsMedia Council supports the freedom of journalists and opinion writers to select the focus of a story and to choose the sources they deem appropriate. It upholds the principle that opinion must be based on fact, but allows the writer to select the overall focus of an article.

The NNC notes that facts in the article were not contested, and supports the prerogative of the columnist to select and feature the ‘face’ of a story. It recognizes the practice of columnists to include comments from individuals whose point of view resonates with their readers. For the above reasons, the NNC dismissed the complaint.

The NNC is cognizant of the long tradition among Canadian news media of expressing support for one political party or another, and recognizes that information, opinion and discussion from different parts of the political spectrum contributes to a healthy democracy.

The reader may agree with those views, or may find fault with an overly-partisan choice. In this case, the complainant raised a question about the credibility of partisan opinion, but took opportunity to express his disagreement by pursuing follow up stories and investigation by other news media. This is a reasonable course of action that contributes to public dialogue.


2020-18: Beatty vs Northern View

March 4, 2020 – for immediate release

The NNC has reviewed and found that corrective action was taken to address a complaint about a headline in a March 1, 2020 news article in the Northern View.

Marvin Beatty was concerned that the article, “Massive fire destroys CN roundhouse in Prince Rupert,” included a sub-headline, “No word whether its associated with blockade protests,” without any factual basis.

The complainant argued that, in this context, it was inappropriate to refer to the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs dispute and associated blockades without any supporting evidence, and that it amounted to speculation without basis. The complainant also said he was concerned that the article contained only one source, which was unnamed. He noted that the news story also appeared in other Black Press publications.

The news media organization updated the sub-headline of the online article shortly after its initial publication to read, “Cause unknown.”

The news media organization subsequently updated the headline to read, “UPDATE: RCMP arrest youth for suspected arson in CN Rail roundhouse blaze,” and the sub-headline to read, “No link to Wet’suwet’en support protests: RCMP.”

The article also contained more information about the incident, including comments from the RCMP that indicated the incident was “definitely not related to the Wet’suwet’en,” and that, while they had received an influx of queries about whether the events were related, such speculation was unfounded.

The NNC recognizes the challenges faced by newsrooms when reporting important information to the community in a timely manner, and that the details of this story were still emerging at the time of the complaint.

That said, ethical journalism takes care to avoid exposing groups to discrimination, particularly when such groups may be targets in a highly polarized political and social context.

In reviewing the updated version of the article, the NNC finds that the updated sub-headline is supported by the new information provided in the story. As well, the updated story addressed the speculation raised by the initial sub-headline and was definitive in stating facts and addressing the insinuation.

The NNC also notes that the news media organization followed best practice by noting in the headline that the story had been updated, and that it took steps to close comments on a story where facts are still emerging and potential for inflammatory conjecture is high.

For the above reasons, the NNC considers this matter resolved due to corrective action.


2020-12: Various vs Vancouver Province

February 19, 2020 – for immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council has dismissed 13 complaints about discrimination and inaccuracy in a headline published in the February 5, 2020, edition of the Vancouver Province.

The NewsMedia Council received a number of similar complaints about the front-page text, “2nd China virus case in B.C.” Complainants stated concern that the term “China Virus” was not the appropriate medical term and that it discriminated against Chinese people.

Many of the complaints reflected statements, some verbatim, in a Change.org petition that called on the news media organization to apologize for its headline. While the NNC is cognizant that at least some of the complaints originated as part of a campaign, it is nevertheless responsible for examining complaints that allege breaches of journalistic standards.

Consistent with NNC process, each complaint was carefully reviewed, and a representative complaint was selected. The complainant, Sophia Hou, took issue with the fact that the words “China Virus” appeared in large letters on the front page, compared to the term “coronavirus,” which appeared on the front page and elsewhere. The complainant argued that in contrast other viruses—such as the Zika virus, Ebola, or H1N1—were not interchangeably used or strictly referred to by their place of origin. She also referred to statements from the World Health Organization that caution against naming diseases that could stigmatize people or places.

The NNC reviewed the article and headline, and heard from the news media organization about the steps it had taken to respond to the complaint.

The news media organization stated that it had sought to address concerns raised by individual readers by explaining to them that the use of the term served only to geolocate the initial outbreak of the virus, not to replace the official name of the virus. The editor of the Vancouver Province also responded publicly to accusations that the headline discriminated against Chinese Canadians, in an appearance in a local radio program.

The NNC accepts the news organization’s position that it did not use the term to replace the proper name of the virus in this instance and that it does not intend to in any future headlines.

In reviewing the complaints and relevant material, the NNC notes that the term “coronavirus” was used in the front-page headline, which reads in full, “Coronavirus threat – 2nd China virus case in B.C. – local officials preparing for imminent return of people stranded in city of Wuhan, epicenter of global crisis.” Additionally, the online version of the The Province’s story on February 4, 2020 uses the term “coronavirus.”

The front-page headline in The Province clearly directs readers to a story on page three. The story adhered to standard journalistic practice by finding a local angle and relating the breaking news about what local officials were doing in light of the crisis. No evidence of discrimination against China or the Chinese community was identified in the print or online versions of the headline or story.

The coronavirus story is a global one, and from a news perspective worthy of front-page placement. This headline states the medical name and provides both general and specific locators – China and Wuhan city. No evidence was provided to dispute these facts.

The NNC recognizes that association with war, natural disaster, or disease can bring negative attention to a geographic location and the people living there. However, it remains the job of journalism to provide facts and information about such events.

In this case, the NNC found that the headline provided information about a concerning topic that is of both global and local interest. No evidence of inaccuracy or pejorative comment was identified in the headline or reporting in question. For these reasons, the NNC found no breach of journalistic standards and dismissed the complaint.


2020-09: Attaran vs Globe and Mail

February 25, 2020 – for immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council has dismissed a complaint about a factual error in a January 8, 2020 opinion article, “Donald Trump is right on Iran” in the Globe and Mail.

Complainant Amir Attaran acknowledged the latitude afforded to opinion writers and made it clear he does not disagree with, or object to, the opinion stated. However, he said the statement “Iran did not abandon its nuclear ambitions, nor did it destroy its centrifuges. It merely put them on ice” was false. He pointed to reports from the Arms Control Centre and the BBC to support the view that Iran complied with destruction of nuclear infrastructure as required by the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

The Globe and Mail responded by noting the nuclear limitation plan “did not require Iran to end its nuclear program nor destroy even close to all of its estimated 20,000 centrifuges.” It noted that the column’s reference to “destroy its centrifuges” meant all centrifuges, therefore eliminating Iran’s capacity to enrich uranium and end its nuclear program.

The news organization’s response referred to a BBC article, published subsequent to the renewal of sanctions and breakdown of the nuclear agreement. That article noted the same facts cited by the complainant, and included U.S. estimates of the potential pace of Iran’s nuclear recovery. The news organization pointed to those estimates as support for the statement that Iran did not abandon its nuclear ambitions or centrifuges.

It is worth noting that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action did not require destruction of all Iran’s centrifuges or nuclear infrastructure. The statement in question did not state whether the writer meant Iran failed to destroy all its centrifuges, or whether it means Iran failed to destroy any of its centrifuges.

Interpretation will be in the view of the reader in light of context and point of view.

The NewsMedia Council is mindful that undue focus on a word can distort the intended meaning of a sentence. Context is crucial. In this case, the context is the opinion writer’s analysis and view that Iran has been militarily aggressive in the region and needed to be stopped.

For that reason the NNC dismissed the complaint. It is of the view that while wording of the statement in question lacked precision that left it open to a question of inaccuracy, the question raised by focusing on a single statement did not substantially alter the overall argument of the opinion article.

It is worth noting that both parties made reference to allegations around defamation. The NNC views defamation as a strong allegation that should not be made lightly.


2020-08: Hockaday vs National Post

February 18, 2020

The National NewsMedia Council has reviewed and dismissed a complaint about accuracy in a January 13 article in the National Post.

In the article, “The hidden cost of almond milk: ‘Exploited and disrespected’ bees are dying by the billions,” the writer explored the impact of various human activity on bee populations.

The complainant took issue with the statement, “[…] researchers have found that pesticides — such as glyphosate (an active ingredient in Roundup) — are the leading cause of colony collapse disorder, but they’re not the only threat facing the pollinators.” He argued that the statement was inaccurate in that it falsely attributed colony collapse disorder to pesticides without providing any scientific sources to support this conclusion, and that glyphosate was mischaracterized as pesticide when it is in fact an herbicide.

The complainant requested that the paper provide scientific sources to support the conclusion or a correction and an apology. Pest sometimes can be beneficial for the soil but A1BBEP| Bed Bug Specialist , Bed Bug Removal points out that bugs on bed can be harmful and it is important that you find natural ways to getting rid of them. Later, the news media organization responded by rejecting the complainant’s claim that the journalism was careless. It provided a list of links to sources to support the writer’s statement.

It is not the role of the NNC to decide on issues of scientific debate. Our role is to examine journalistic standards, which include accuracy, context, and opportunity to respond to harmful statements and allegations.

The NNC accepts the news media organization’s response that the journalist and editors exercised due diligence in examining research in this area and selecting sources.

In reviewing the article and related material, the NNC noted that the statement in question is qualified in two ways. While the phrase, “researchers have found,” suggests that research finds pesticides to be a factor in colony collapse disorder, it does not close the door to other findings. Second, the phrase, “but they’re not the only threat facing the pollinators,” recognizes that pesticides are considered only one factor affecting bee colonies. Read as a whole, the statement does not claim that pesticides alone cause colony collapse, but rather characterizes an area of research for readers.

The NNC would note that the term “pesticide” is commonly defined as an umbrella term that refers to substances that manage or destroy “pests,” including fungus, plants and animals.

The NNC supports journalists’ prerogative to choose the focus of a story. In this case, the NNC finds that the article explored several factors affecting bee populations, particularly, the mass transport of bees, and acknowledged that the exact causes of colony collapse disorder are unknown.

The NNC also defends journalists’ freedom to select the sources they deem credible. It does not dictate the type or number of sources in a story. While the reader may prefer to rely on other sources or to see more links in an article, this preference does not necessarily indicate a breach of standards.

For these reasons, the NNC found no evidence of inaccuracy and no breach of journalistic standards. We would also point out that the NNC does not compel its members to issue apologies.


2020-07: Dunn vs Soo Today

For immediate release: January 30, 2020

The National NewsMedia Council mediated and found that corrective action was taken to address a complaint about accuracy of quoted statements in a January 16 news article published by Soo Today.

The article, “Sault musician moved by retired steelworkers to pen ‘protest’ song,” described how musician Mark Dunn was inspired to write a song after hearing from individuals opposed to the arrival of a ferrochrome processing plant in the area. The article described the technical aspects of the song and song-writing process, based on an interview with the musician, and included contextual details about the facility.

The musician filed a complaint to the NNC that said his statements had been mischaracterized and misused to create a conflict between himself and the corporation responsible for the ferrochrome plant.

While the complainant said that quotes in the article were largely accurate, he was concerned with the overall impression that the story left on readers about his views on the arrival of the facility and argued that a paraphrased quote inaccurately represented his statements.

In particular, the complainant was concerned with the accuracy of the paraphrased statement, “The heavy nature of the ferrochrome facility and its health risks, Dunn said, led him to give this particular song a heavier sound.”

The complainant acknowledged that the news media organization changed the headline after he complained that the original headline did not accurately reflect the focus of the story. However, he was concerned that the URL still reflected the original headline.

After it was alerted to the complaint, Soo Today promptly reviewed the recorded interview. It accepted that the paraphrased statement could have been clearer and subsequently clarified the statement in the article to read, “Dunn said his concern not only about the proposed ferrochrome facility, but also his broader ecological concerns related to the water of the Great Lakes, contributed to the song’s ‘angry’ sound.” This amendment was satisfactory to the complainant.

The news media organization also offered to change the URL to reflect the new headline.

In reviewing the recorded interview, the news media organization found that a different quote had included the word “industrial” when in fact the original quote had not, and therefore removed the extraneous word of its own accord, though this was not part of the original complaint.

Soo Today strongly rejected the complainant’s allegation that it distorted a story to create conflict between two parties where there was none. It also strongly rejected the allegation that the journalist in any way misrepresented his intentions, and stated that the complainant initiated contact with the newsroom and offered a recording for review.

It is worth noting that in examining this article and related material, the NNC did not find evidence that the statements in the article had been misrepresented. An ordinary reading of the article recounts the inspiration behind a local musician’s song and his song-writing process. Alleging sensationalism is a serious charge and in this case the NNC finds no evidence to support the allegation.

The NNC supports the news media organization’s swift action to address the concerns raised by the complainant. It recognizes that the news media organization was careful to address each of the complainant’s concerns with thorough explanation and was accommodating in its actions.

For these reasons, the NNC considers this matter resolved due to corrective action.


2019-96: Powell vs Toronto Sun

For immediate release – January 14, 2020

The National NewsMedia Council has found that corrective action was taken to address the level of explicit detail in a November 6, 2019 news article published in the Toronto Sun.

The article, “Man, 52, accused of sexually assaulting three children,” reported on the arrest of a Toronto man accused of repeatedly sexually assaulting three minors. The original article published on November 6 referenced the children’s ages at the time of the incidents and their family circumstances, and included explicit details of six specific incidents of sexual assault.

Complainant Louise Powell argued that the amount of detail and explicit nature of the information reported in the November 6 article constituted irresponsible reporting and was insensitive to the alleged victims and their family. She also questioned how such details were obtained.

In reviewing the complaint and article in question, the NNC noted that the news media organization updated the article on November 8. The updated version excluded all details about the specific incidents, and removed references to the children’s ages and family circumstances.

Both versions of the story characterized the alleged offences as horrendous sexual abuse and stated the years in which the alleged offences occurred based on information from unnamed sources.

The Toronto Sun responded to the complaint by stating that it removed some explicit details in the online version of the story following reader concerns about the article content. The news media organization stated that the information in the original article was from open court and not subject to a publication ban.

The NNC noted that while the article included a date on which it had been updated, there was no notice of correction or editor’s note stating which changes had been made or why.

The news media organization responded by stating that any online story that has been updated includes the original publication date and the date on which it was updated.

The NNC supports reporting on Canada’s open courts system, as it promotes accountability and transparency. It also recognizes that journalists must weigh individual privacy concerns with the duties of a free press.

While respect for personal privacy should not unduly inhibit reporting on matters in the public interest, special consideration is given to minors and the victims of crimes. In such cases, journalistic standards call for particular discretion when reporting facts.

The accuracy of the facts in this case is not in dispute. While the NNC accepts that information on the charges was obtained from open court, it notes that both the original and updated versions of the article contain details from unnamed sources.

The use of unnamed sources is reserved for rare circumstances, and best practice in those cases is to be transparent with the reader by providing as much contextual information as possible and an explanation of why it was necessary to withhold their identity.

In this case, Council found the news media organization’s response that the information was taken from open court to be inconsistent, as both articles referenced unnamed sources.

Even in cases where information is publicly available, editorial discretion calls for journalists to evaluate which details in the public record are relevant to the story.

It should be noted that matters related to publication bans rest with the court, and the issue of victim identification was outside the scope of the original complaint. However, the NNC notes that best practice calls for excluding information that could tend to identify individuals covered by a publication ban.

In this case, the NNC supports the news media organization’s decision to remove specific details about the alleged victims and explicit details about the alleged sexual assaults to prevent undue harm to those involved. For these reasons, the NNC finds this complaint resolved due to corrective action.

That said, the NNC notes that the news media organization did not provide a correction or editor’s note stating why or how the article had been changed.

Council noted that the original and updated articles resulted in two vastly different versions of the story, and that the lack of explanation to readers regarding these significant changes was particularly concerning.

Corrections serve to promote transparency and accountability as well as build trust with readers. Best practice is to correct errors and acknowledge changes in a consistent and transparent manner. In cases where information in an article is corrected, clarified or omitted, a brief statement noting such changes and the reasons behind them is often sufficient to provide readers with appropriate indication of how the article has been changed.

Council was also concerned with how the news media organization responded to the complaint. Despite the fact that the news media organization was given the opportunity to provide an explanation to readers about the significant changes to the article, no explanation was provided.

The NNC acknowledges that the news media organization took steps to make changes to the article to adhere to widely accepted practice, and finds the complaint about the level of detail in the article resolved due to corrective action. That said, it is the view of Council that the lack of transparency surrounding the story’s sources and subsequent changes to the article fell short of best practice.


2019-93: Hill vs County Weekly News

December 4, 2019 – The National NewsMedia Council has mediated and found that corrective action was taken to address an attribution error in an opinion column that appeared in the October 17, 2019, edition of the County Weekly News.

The County Weekly News published the column, “The goal of reducing Canada’s debt is not something to be ridiculed,” with the byline and photo of the regional editor, who is also a columnist for the publication.

The complainant, John Hill, argued that the County Weekly News attributed the column to the wrong author about cabot and was concerned that the original author had not received appropriate credit. The complainant noted that free weekly papers in rural communities should be held to the same journalistic standards as their urban counterparts and dailies, which include appropriate attribution of stories. He also cited expectations under copyright law.

In reviewing the complaint and article in question, the NNC noted that the column was in fact written by columnist John Ivison and originally published in the October 11 edition of the National Post, another Postmedia publication.

When alerted to this complaint, the news media organization responded by stating that the regional editor had made the error when he copied and pasted the column from the system that the publication uses to publish and share Postmedia content. He stated that the column was automatically attributed to him when he submitted it for use in the County Weekly News, and that he failed to catch the error while proofreading the page for print. The editor apologized for the attribution error.

The County Weekly News published a correction in its November 28 edition, which noted the attribution error and stated its regrets.

The National NewsMedia Council strongly supports the notion that journalistic standards apply to all news media organizations, regardless of geography or circulation. Standard practice requires journalists to ensure proper attribution so that individuals and organizations are given appropriate credit for their work. The NNC supports the view that original materials should be subject to applicable copyright laws.

In this case, the NNC notes that the news media organization took steps to explain and correct this attribution error. In light of the published correction, the NNC considers this matter resolved due to corrective action.


2019-79: Pierce vs Toronto Life

30 September 2019 – for immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council has considered and dismissed a complaint about a factual inaccuracy in an article published by Toronto Life on August 19, 2019, entitled “Sale of the Week: The $3.4-million modern Thorncrest home took a few tries to sell.”

The complainant, Nancy Pierce, described herself as a real estate agent who has lived in Toronto’s Thorncrest Village for over 20 years. She took issue with the description of the house, arguing that it would have been better described as a “Princess-Rosethorn” home, and that the misidentification had a negative impact on potential buyers in Thorncrest Village and her real estate business.

The complainant described the article as “reckless reporting and a breach of journalistic standards.” She requested the news magazine publish an apology along with an article that was “more flattering” about real estate in Thorncrest Village.

The NNC does not compel its members to issue an apology, nor does it direct news media organizations on editorial decisions. For these reasons, the NNC will not take action on the requests for an apology and substitute article.

The news media organization responded to the complaint by stating that names of Toronto neighbourhoods differ based on a variety of sources and that it is the practice of the news media organization to describe areas by more commonly identifiable locations. While the news organization  acknowledged  that Thorncrest Village has a particular history and distinct identity, it pointed out that the article did not refer to the home as being located in “Thorncrest Village” but in  a larger area that it has referred to for the past ten years as “Thorncrest” after the name of a principal street in the area.

Real estate agents often face challenges when marketing properties, including ensuring accuracy in property descriptions and locations. While this particular complaint focused on the misidentification of a neighborhood, there are others, such as discrepancies in property sizes or features. To maintain credibility and avoid potential legal issues, real estate agents should take great care in accurately describing properties and their locations, and be aware of any specific guidelines or regulations in their area. Additionally, utilizing third-party verification services or collaborating with reputable media outlets can help ensure accuracy and provide added credibility to property listings.

In reviewing the article in question and additional materials submitted, the NNC supported the view of the news organization regarding its use of neighbourhood names. While acknowledging there are varying maps and designations describing Toronto neighbourhoods, the NNC supports the prerogative of a journalist to select the source that best serves the focus of an article. In this case, the article prominently reported the house number and street name of the property, removing any question about the exact location of the property

The complainant argued that this geographical reference diminished the value of other properties located in Thorncrest Village. However, no evidence to support this allegation was submitted or found in the article. In an ordinary reading, the article is about a specific house and does not comment on the neighbourhood.

For the above reasons, the NNC dismisses the complaint about inaccuracy. The NNC takes allegations of reckless reporting very seriously. In considering the totality of this complaint, it finds the complainant’s allegation to be without merit.


2019-82: Various vs Tri-City News

October 2, 2019 – for immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council has dismissed three complaints about bias and inaccuracy in a September 18 news article, “Tri-City candidates boycott debate at Coquitlam church,” published in Tri-City News.

The article reported that political candidates declined invitations to participate in a would-be debate hosted by a local church. It described how the candidates declined to participate in the forum after an activist in the community publicly pointed out the pastor’s stance on LGBTQ issues. The article included interviews with several of individuals including the pastor, candidates, and the activist.

Complainants David Smith, Juergen Rossdeutscher, and Lynda Smith filed largely similar complaints with the National NewsMedia Council, arguing that the article was biased and that it painted the church, and by extension Christians, in a negative light. One complainant, Mr. Smith, alleged that the pastor of the church had been misquoted.

The news media organization stated that it had received numerous complaints about the article, most of which came from outside its coverage area. In response to allegations that the article misquoted or incompletely quoted the pastor, it stated that it reviewed the recording of the interview with the pastor and confirmed that the quotes were accurate and complete. The news media organization rejected allegations of bias and stated that it stands by its reporting.

In reviewing the complaints and article in question, the National NewsMedia Council noted that none of the complainants cited a specific inaccuracy or misquote. An ordinary reading of the article did not indicate negativity or bias as referenced by the complainants. The NewsMedia Council accepted the news media organization’s statement that it carried out its due diligence by taking steps to ensure that the quotes were in fact accurate. For these reasons, the NewsMedia Council identified no evidence of a breach of journalistic practice and dismissed the three complaints of bias and inaccuracy.


2019-62: Colby vs Chatham Voice

September 27, 2019 – for immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council mediated and found that corrective action was taken to address a complaint about accuracy in a July 24 opinion article, “Finally,” published in the Chatham Voice.

The opinion article criticized the perceived inaction of various levels of government to address concerns about well-water quality in Chatham-Kent, Ont., but expressed hope that a recently appointed panel of experts would “finally” address the issue.

Medical Officer of Health for Chatham-Kent, Dr. David Colby, filed a complaint with the NNC alleging inaccuracy and bias in the article. The complainant took issue with statements in the article that characterized various levels of government, including himself as the medical officer of health, as ignoring the concerns of residents.

In particular, the complainant argued that the statement, “our medical officer of health shouldn’t blow off the concerns of more than 189 well owners,” was inaccurate in its characterization of the issue. He stated that the figure was inaccurate, as was the implication that he failed to conduct his due diligence contrary to his statement that he had performed an extensive analysis of the issue. The complainant also alleged that the article speculated without grounds reasons for sediment in the well water.

The Chatham Voice responded by stating that it had been following and reporting on the story since 2017 and that it recognized the contentious and emotional nature of the issue. It stated that its reporting was informed by numerous interviews and visits to the properties of well owners. It also stated that the phrase “blowing off” was based on statements from individuals who had contacted Mr. Colby with their concerns about the quality of their water. The news media organization cited several other sources that informed their reporting, including interviews with professionals in the fields of geology and environmental science.

The NNC supports the wide latitude afforded to opinion writers to express unpopular views or raise pointed questions. Bias in an opinion article is to be expected, as the purpose of opinion writing is to express a point of view on an issue. That said, the NNC is also of the view that opinion writing is subject to widely accepted journalistic standards, including a commitment to accuracy and appropriate attribution.

In reviewing the statements in question, the NNC noted that it was unclear what the “189” figure was in reference to, and therefore a reader may be left to assume that 189 people or more raised their concerns with the medical officer of health and were subsequently dismissed or rebuked. The NNC did not identify evidence in the article to support this claim.

While an opinion article may offer unpopular perspectives on an issue, statements must be based on verifiable facts. Attribution provides essential context about the origin of information reported in a story and allows a reader to assess the source and credibility of that information.

The NNC appreciates the fact that the news media organization had followed this story for some time. However, a reader may only encounter an individual article and is not necessarily familiar with prior reporting. Appropriate context should therefore be presented within the article itself, which may include links to prior reporting.

Upon being notified of the lack of clarity and context in the final statement of the article, the news organization amended the sentence to read, “All levels of government should be concerned when it comes to drinking water, including our own medical officer of health, as there are well owners who feel no government official is doing much, if anything, for them.”

The news organization also provided links below the story to several letters to the editor which supported statements that residents were frustrated with how various levels of government had handled the issue of well water quality.

The amended sentence now reads as a characterization of opinions expressed by individuals in the community. Moreover, the addition of links to letters to the editor provides context and further evidence to support the statements in the article.

In light of the above, the NNC considers the changes to the article appropriate corrective action to ensure accuracy and provide context in an opinion article.


2019-77: Coakley vs Hamilton Spectator

September 12, 2019

The National NewsMedia Council has mediated and found that corrective action was taken to address a complaint about the headline and caption of a September 4, 2019 news article, “Police probe double stabbing in west Hamilton,” published in the Hamilton Spectator.

The article was a brief report about a stabbing that occurred in a west Hamilton neighbourhood and an ongoing police investigation in the area.

The complainant, Mark Coakley, argued that the news article did not accurately identify the neighbourhood where the incident occurred. He stated that the incident occurred in his own neighbourhood of Ainslie Wood, rather than in the neighbouring area of Westdale. The complainant was also highly concerned about a perceived trend in prejudicial reporting on certain neighbourhoods. He pointed to the Hamilton Spectator’s series, “Code Red,” as an example of reporting that explored neighbourhood inequity in the city.

Deliberating on wider trends in reporting and the issue of neighbourhood inequity is beyond the mandate of the NewsMedia Council. However, the NNC understands as a general principle the concern about the impact of stereotyping geographical locations and is of the view that the news media should not perpetuate community discrimination or stereotyping.

The NNC found no evidence to support the claim that the article in question perpetuated stereotypes of Hamilton neighbourhoods. The NNC further noted that the Spectator’s decision to revisit its 2010 series “Code Red” in recent reporting, as cited by the complainant, can be viewed as evidence that the news organization has taken a proactive role in investigating and explaining the roots and current status of those inequities.

In reviewing the portion of the complaint about the accuracy of the headline and caption, the NNC noted that the information cited in the article originated from a police press release. The police information stated that the incident took place in the “Westdale area.” In the story posted online by the Hamilton Spectator, the headline and article identified the location of the incident as occurring in “west Hamilton.” In this way, the article differed from the police press release.

The NNC noted, however, that the caption below a photo accompanying the article identified the incident as occurring in “Westdale.” Upon being notified of this by the NNC, the news organization took swift action to correct the geographical reference in the caption.

The NNC commends the news organization’s prompt correction of an error, and views the corrective action as appropriate remedy to ensure accuracy. It thanks both parties for their cooperation and for the opportunity to consider this matter.


2019-61: Soper vs Hamilton Spectator

August 7, 2019 – for immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council (NNC) has considered and dismissed a complaint about the inclusion of past criminal charges, since stayed, against an individual featured in a July 16, 2019, column published in the Hamilton Spectator.

The feature-length column, “Injured girl denied insurance claim due to province’s bureaucratic glitch”, examines the complex bureaucratic and legal challenges faced by a local mother, Sharon Hill, as she and her family sought medical rehabilitation compensation for her daughter following a devastating injury.

In her submission, the complainant, Zoe Soper, argued that the inclusion of the past criminal charges against Hill were “unethical” and lacked sensitivity because they had been stayed. Moreover, she said the charges against Hill were not relevant to the issue of medical insurance and compensation, which was the column’s primary focus.

In its response, the news organization responded by affirming that the column in question was labelled as ‘opinion’, and as such, columnists should be afforded wide latitude to express their own perspectives and views. The news organization, moreover, stated the charges against Hill were part of the public record, and that proper care had been taken to ensure the details about the charges were described in appropriate context. An omission of the past charges against Hill, they said, would have been both irresponsible and not transparent.

In reviewing the complaint, the NewsMedia Council considered the journalistic standard that news reports and opinion columns should be fair, accurate, and provide relevant context for readers.

While the column in question does address many of the technical and legalistic elements of the health care system, it recognized that the focus on Hill, and her family, was critically important to bring this complex issue to a tangible, real life, situation.

The NNC is cognizant that, in a digital age, news organizations must exhibit care when reporting on individuals who, willingly or not, become the subject of public spotlight. In order to minimize the possibility of causing undue harm and long-term damage to the reputation of these individuals, news organizations should exercise editorial discretion with both rigor and responsibility.

In its consideration of the complainant’s concerns about the fairness of repeating past criminal charges, Council noted that Hill has been a subject of several reports over the past two years by the Hamilton Spectator. A basic search of Hill’s name in the respondent’s archives, for example, yields four stories with the following datelines: September 27, 2017; November 27, 2017; March 15, 2018; and July 24, 2018. Council also notes that Hill’s criminal charges were covered by a series of other news outlets.

In light of this fact, Council supports the view of the news organization that the inclusion of the past charges in the column provided relevant context for readers.

In its review of the column, Council also noted that the news organization did include hyperlinked text to a story that described why the charges against Hill had been stayed. This falls in line with current industry best practice and does not constitute a breach of journalistic standards.

Lastly, the complainant took issue with how the news organization chose to introduce Hill, and the charges, since stayed, to readers. Council recommends stating that this concern is an issue of editorial presentation and declines to comment on the matter as it extends beyond the NNC’s mandate.


2019-51: Clohessy vs St. Catharines Standard

July 22, 2019

The National NewsMedia Council reviewed and found corrective action was taken on an April 18, 2019 article, “Probation for man who was caught with fentanyl at border,” published in the St. Catharines Standard.

The article reported the conviction and sentencing of an individual who was found in possession of the drug fentanyl. It stated that four officers with the Canada Border Services Agency “became ill after being exposed to an unknown substance during an inspection of a vehicle at the Fort Erie border crossing on June 2, 2017.”

The article subsequently noted the illegal substances found in the individual’s possession included fentanyl, and provided a description of the drug, stating as fact that “Fentanyl is a powerful and potentially lethal opioid that can be absorbed through the skin.”

Patrick Clohessy complained that the article’s statement that fentanyl “can be absorbed through the skin” is misleading in that it is contradicted by current scientific and medical knowledge and other law enforcement standards. The complainant cited several sources to support his argument that contradict possible overexposure to the drug through brief, accidental skin contact.

The complainant also argued that the article presents information in such a manner that leads readers into thinking that passive contact with fentanyl caused law enforcement agents to fall ill.

The news organization stated that the April 2019 article was based on original reporting of a June 2017 incident that led to the conviction. It rejected the argument that the article reported statements in such a way that leads readers to believe that passive contact with fentanyl caused law enforcement agents to fall ill. Instead, it stated, “The cause of their illness is not explicitly determined in the story.”

However, in response to the complaint, the news organization added information to the article, citing the Border Service Agency as the source of information that “officers became ill after being exposed” to an unknown substance.

It also acknowledged that information about absorption and level of hazard posed by exposure to fentanyl may be changing, and added a statement to that effect in the article. It also added a link to current RCMP policy for first responders dealing with possible fentanyl exposure.

Attribution provides essential context about the origin of information reported in a story. The additional statement and the information link provides context that alerts the reader to differing opinions and changing knowledge about fentanyl exposure and protection. In this case, the corrective action to add attribution tells readers the source of a statement reported as fact and helps readers to assess the credibility of that information.

Earlier reports may have been accepted as true at the time, and information that is readily available now may contradict earlier reporting. The role of the NNC is not to determine the accuracy of one position or another on scientific facts. Best practice is to include warnings to the reader that information on articles published in previous years may be out of date.

The NNC finds that adding attribution of statements and acknowledging changes in protocol around fentanyl exposure are appropriate corrective actions that provide clarification and opportunity for readers to evaluate the veracity of information from sources. Further, proper attribution prevents perpetuating misleading or outdated information that risks stigmatizing a vulnerable sector of the population.

The complainant argued that sensationalist reporting “about police ‘overdosing’ from exposure to small amounts of fentanyl” further stigmatizes and endangers drug users, as it could deter people from responding to an individual suffering from a potentially fatal drug overdose.

The NNC does not deal with trends in reporting and therefore declines to comment on incidence of sensationalism in general. While concerned about the impact of information that could stigmatize vulnerable people, the NNC accepts the news organization’s view that this particular article was not sensational.


2019-57: Holmes vs Chilliwack Progress

July 19, 2019 – for immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council mediated and found that corrective action was taken to address a complaint about the headline for a June 24 2019 news article in the Chilliwack Progress, “Heroism medal for Chilliwack woman who tried to save man in a wheelchair stuck on rail tracks.”

The original headline of the article read “Heroism medal for Chilliwack woman who tried to save wheelchair-bound man stuck on rail tracks.”

Angela Holmes filed a complaint with the National NewsMedia Council about the use of the term “wheelchair-bound.” The complainant stated that the term was inappropriate and derogatory, and that its use “contributes to uninformed widespread misconceptions about people with disabilities and mobility devices.”

The complainant cited various journalistic style guides and community guidelines that guard against the use of terms such as “wheelchair-bound” or “confined to a wheelchair,” and that instead recommend the language, “person who uses a wheelchair.”

The Chilliwack Progress is owned by Black Press Media. Black Press responded by stating that it agreed with the complainant’s assessment that the term “wheelchair-bound” is antiquated and ableist. It therefore removed the original headline and replaced it with an appropriately-worded description.

In response to the complaint, the news media organization also took steps to circulate information to its newsrooms on the use of appropriate language and terminology when writing about people with disabilities and those who use mobility devices.

The National NewsMedia Council recognizes the role that language plays in accurately representing individuals and communities. In this case, it supports the news organization’s amendment of the headline and commends its decision to provide information to its newsrooms on appropriate use of language to prevent similar issues in the future.

The NNC considers this to be appropriate corrective action taken on the use of language in a headline.


2019-58: Cooke vs Globe and Mail

July 16, 2019 – for immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council has dismissed a complaint about the accuracy of statements made in a May 11, 2019 column published in the Globe and Mail under the headline: ‘How the Liberals got trapped without a policy in the Middle East’.

The complainant, Charles Cooke, took issue with the phrase “…as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu enters his second decade in office on a self-declared mission to breach the long-established foundations of peaceful co-existence and to goad Mr. Trump into war with Iran.”

He argued that the statement was inaccurate because it was an assertion not based in fact.

The news organization responded by stating that the assertion was a fair and reasonable comment based on the columnists view of ongoing international discord.

Distinguishing fact from opinion is a basic journalistic principle.

After a thorough review of this complaint, the NNC is of the view that the opinion writer was not making specific reference to any particular incident or conversation between political leaders, but rather, was making a statement based on his observations about the relationship between the two governments. Given that the article in question is an opinion column, it is appropriate for the writer to state what he sees as the relevant details, based on his current knowledge, observations and reporting.

In this case, while Prime Minister Netanyahu has not overtly lobbied President Trump to engage in attacks on Iran, a sampling of online search queries provides several news stories, from reputable U.S. and international organizations, which support the opinion writer’s statement.

The NNC supports opinion writers’ prerogative to choose their own sources. In that vein, 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 standards.

The NNC also noted that the statement in question is, by-and-large, secondary to the main thrust of the article, which is the columnist’s deeper examination of the current issue as it relates to Canadian foreign policy in the Middle East.

For these reasons, the NNC finds no breach of journalistic standards and declines to pursue further action on your complaint.

Lastly, the News Media Council noted that the news organization offered the complainant an opportunity for a letter to the editor. Letters are widely-accepted as a remedy and as a reasonable opportunity to present a point of view or set of circumstances, and to add valued diversity of voices on contentious issues of public interest.


2019-55: MM vs National Post

For immediate release – July 8, 2019

The National NewsMedia Council mediated and found that corrective action was taken to address portions of a complaint about the accuracy of a May 6, 2019 news story in the National Post.

The complainant argued in a four-part submission that the news story, which included details from Information to Obtain documents relating to investigations by Toronto Police Service into what was found to be a serial killer, revealed personal information about a victim that were inaccurate, biased, and provided an unclear representation of that individual.

In her submission, the complainant requested that the news organization correct a name error in the news story’s original headline, which had been widely promoted on the organization’s social media channels. She also argued that many details of the story were “sensationalistic,” “irresponsible,” based on “unfounded inference,” and added little to the public’s understanding of the case and investigation.

With regard to the first complaint, the news organization responded by admitting it made an error in a name in the story’s headline, and stated that a correction was made immediately. The news organization also said it deleted its original Facebook and Twitter posts and replaced them with accurate content.

The new headline of the story was updated to: “Andrew Kinsman was fascinated by serial killers before he became Bruce McArthur’s 8th victim”.

In its response to the complainant, the news organization described the process by which a correction can be better identified. It indicated that a new system to address such corrections is being developed and will more quickly cascade updates to member titles in the future.

On this portion of the complaint, the NewsMedia Council, therefore, deems corrective action to have been taken in accord with best practices. The Council recognizes that the news organization acknowledged the error and is taking steps to develop a more robust system to address any similar situation in the future.

With respect to the three other portions of the complaint, the news organized responded by stating its reporting was accurate based on the contents of the trove of court documents, and supplemented by interviews with expert sources. The news organization stated that it displayed sensitivity and discretion in reporting what the complainant referred to as “gratuitous details.”

Upon subsequent correspondence, the complainant chose to abandon these additional portions of her complaint.


2019-45: Squalli vs Globe and Mail

June 19, 2019 – for immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council has dismissed one portion and dismissed with reservation another portion of a complaint about an April 11, 2019 opinion article in the Globe and Mail.

The magazine-length opinion article, “Every parent’s nightmare: Your spouse flees the country with your kids, and the government is in no rush to help”, detailed the international and legal effort by a mother to regain custody of her children, who are living overseas after travelling with their father. It described bureaucratic hurdles and international complexity, with reports from the mother’s point of view supplemented by the author’s experience as well as the voices of lawyers for the mother, another lawyer, related child custody and other agencies, domestic violence attorneys representing clients in Long Beach, and reference to two other child custody cases.

The complainant, Jay Squalli, provided information and documentation to support his view that the article was inaccurate, misstated the facts of his custody dispute, and failed to provide a reasonable account of his views as father of the children. He argued that as a result it misguided readers.

In reviewing this complaint, the NNC also asked the news organization for comment on publishing the names and photos of the children given the complainant’s statement denying that consent, and on the decision to label the article as opinion.

Copious evidence was submitted by the complainant related to issues of accuracy surrounding the child custody dispute and court proceedings. It is not the job of the NNC to rule on matters of family or international law. The NNC supports the work of journalists to draw on court documents, and to provide context to aid reader comprehension, particularly where cases may be ongoing. The parties have presented conflicting evidence in support of, or opposition to, the court proceedings, but it is not the role of the NNC to resolve court matters. For this reason, the NNC declined to comment on allegations about the accuracy of court proceedings and rulings.

Responding to the complaint about failure to give a reasonable account of the complainant’s view, the news organization said the focus of the opinion article was the legal and bureaucratic delay in dealing with international child-abduction cases that led to a miscarriage of justice. It noted the complainant did not agree to any type of phone interview, and said the two paragraphs chosen to represent his view were fair, balanced and did not include any known factual misstatements.

The news organization defended labeling the article as opinion by noting it opened with the writer’s own voice and experience, and continued with examples of legal, psychological and political ramifications of this and similar cases. The news organization said the article conveyed the writer’s opinion on Canada’s need to improve handling of child abduction cases.

While there is no breach in labeling this article as opinion, the writer’s strong advocacy for one side of a single case raises question about portraying those interests in light of potential reputational harm to the children and the other side. The NNC’s view is that best practice would give greater emphasis to the complexity of these situations and to the vigour of the debate over where the truth lies when the parties’ stories are so diametrically opposed.

The NNC noted that the opinion article was heavily weighted toward the mother’s story and point of view. At the same time, the complainant declined permission to publish the material he provided. Nonetheless, the article contained some selective information provided by the complainant and paraphrased his response. For this reason, and in view of the fact that an opinion writer has a journalist’s prerogative to select the focus of an article and the wide latitude to express a point of view, we found no breach of journalistic standards of balance or opportunity to respond and dismissed this portion of the complaint.

Regarding identifying the children, widely-accepted journalistic standards urge extra care in interviewing children and require parental permission to name or photograph children. The news organization stated the mother, as legal guardian in Canada’s view, provided the photos and gave permission for their names to be published. For these reasons we found no breach of journalistic standards and dismissed this portion of the complaint.

However, we dismissed this portion of the complaint with reservation. The longevity of online stories is of concern regarding identification of the children. Given that the article described the children’s emotional health and family dynamics, it is worth considering future reputational impact. Best practice would have been to use initials or pseudonyms for the children.


2019-49: Yonson vs Canadian Press

For immediate release – June 12, 2019

The National NewsMedia Council has dismissed a complaint about the use of anonymous sources in a story published by the Canadian Press.

The complainant, Doug Yonson, objected to an April 9, 2019 Canadian Press article that ran under the headline “Free dental care for low-income seniors to be announced in budget.” This news report was a short pre-budget story that confirmed Ontario’s governing Progress Conservatives would act on providing low-income seniors with free dental care, which was promised during the election campaign.

While government initiatives aim to address these concerns, individuals seeking dental care may also benefit from additional options, such as finding a dentist open on Sundays. By expanding access to dental services on weekends, individuals can receive the necessary care and treatment without compromising their schedules or delaying their oral health needs. This broader availability of dental care helps ensure that everyone, regardless of their income level, can access the essential services they require for their overall well-being.

In Doug Yonson submission, the complainant alleged the news organization’s use of anonymous sources was unacceptable because they undermined the credibility of journalists and their work. He further argued that the growing practice of relying on anonymous sources leaves news organizations themselves vulnerable to be manipulated by politicians and other government officials, which does a significant disservice to the public.

In its response, the news media organization indicated that the appropriate use of anonymous sources is an ongoing conversation in the newsroom. In terms of this specific complaint, the news organization said all of its internal protocols were followed: confirming details of the impending announcement with more than one source; describing the source; and seeking additional opposition voices to provide context. It also reiterated that the story was in the public interest.

The NNC supports the widely-recognized journalistic principle that news organizations should avoid use of anonymous sources as much as possible, and when they are used to provide as much contextual information as possible. Similarly, the NNC supports the accepted principle that reporting on government budgets serves an important public function.

In considering this complaint, Council distinguished between the news organization’s description of the source as a ‘government source’ rather than an ‘anonymous source’, and is satisfied that in doing so it gave the reader useful and relevant context about the credibility and motivation of the source.

Unlike in investigative journalism, where sources may be granted anonymity by a news organization under certain specific conditions for the purpose of serving the public’s right to know, this report relied on a government source for a straightforward preview of a policy promised during the election and planned for announcement in a soon-to-be released budget. Council found no evidence to support the complainant’s view that the news organization was manipulated by government. Rather, the motivation of a government official providing a journalist with advance details of a promised program is abundantly clear.

For these reasons, and after carefully reviewing the news story in question and supporting submissions, the NNC found no breach of journalistic standards with regard to the use of anonymous sources and dismissed the complaint.


2019-18: Crowe vs Toronto Sun

For immediate release – June 12, 2019

The National NewsMedia Council has upheld a complaint against a Toronto Sun opinion article, “Fewer councillors but same grandstanding”, in which complainant Cathy Crowe was called a “poverty pimp”.

Council found that use of the term in the January 30 2019 column did not pass the journalistic test for “fair comment” based on provable facts presented in the story. As a result, it found the phrase to be an inaccurate and unfair characterization.

A hearing panel was called to advise the Council because of the importance of the issue to be decided, which was whether the label “poverty pimp” as applied in this case met the journalistic tests for fair comment: honest opinion in the public interest, presented without malice and based on provable facts presented in the story.

Fair comment also has a legal definition, but the NNC declines to comment on legal matters.

The complainant was named in a one-sentence aside about “the poverty pimps who packed the gallery” in a column that otherwise focused on Toronto City Council receiving petitions about a perceived emergency amongst the city’s homeless population.

The complainant, a registered nurse, argued that an earlier January 27, 2019 article by the same journalist was inaccurate in stating she “created a second career” for herself, and was unfair in the January 30, 2019 column in calling her a “poverty pimp”. The complainant argued that in both articles the term “poverty pimp” suggested the use of fear, force, coercion and abuse towards people who are homeless, and that the use of the term falsely framed her work with the marginalized in a pejorative manner.

The news organization responded that the columns were defensible under fair comment. It argued a reasonable reader would understand the columnist was of the view that “the complainant has used the homeless and the homeless issue to further various causes.”

The news organization offered the complainant the opportunity to respond by way of an article or letter to the editor subsequent to publication of the columns.

The complainant argued that the news organization’s offer of an opportunity to respond would require her to remain on the defensive and would do nothing meaningful to remove the label “poverty pimp” from her good name. The majority of the panel agreed the complainant’s refusal to accept the right of reply as a remedy was reasonable in this context.

Members of the panel explored the meaning and appropriateness of the phrase “poverty pimp” in terms of economic and reputational merit, in general terms, and with regard to the complainant. Panelists noted while the complainant’s reputation is bound up in advocacy for the homeless, guided by a professional code of ethics, the column offered no evidence that she had profited from that advocacy, nor was any explanation provided in the January 30 column.

Panel members explored where a line might be drawn in any debate on fair comment and found that, generally speaking, accuracy provides a reasonable guide. A majority of panelists agreed that in the case of this complainant, there was no justification provided for use of the label. Panelists also questioned the issue of malice and heard that the complainant felt “singled out” for use of the term in question.

For its part, the news organization repeatedly relied on the general understanding of “free speech” in defending the use of the descriptor. Pressed for specifics, it made reference to a Supreme Court ruling on fair comment to support its right to publish controversial and offensive opinion.

The news organization further argued that “poverty pimp” referred to someone who uses the issue of homelessness to further various causes, and asserted that the complainant created a career “on the backs of the homeless”. Council noted, however, that the January 30 article cited no evidence to support this view, nor was information presented that the complainant’s efforts involved exploitation of the homeless or undue profit.

The news organization stated there was an embedded link to the January 27 column in the online version of the January 30 article, but acknowledged the explanatory information from the earlier article was not referenced in the print version of the article in question. The panel found no such embedded link.

Panel members and Council were at some pains to indicate their support for the wide latitude of columnists to be provocative in expressing their views, and not to have the NNC seen as intruding on editorial discretion. Nevertheless, widely accepted journalistic standards call for inclusion of supporting facts and for subjects to have a fair opportunity to respond to criticism before publication. Best practice is to avoid ad hominem attacks that are immaterial to the main thrust of an article.

A minority opinion to dismiss the complaint with reservation expressed the view, among other concerns, that the complainant failed to substantiate how the term used by the columnist and others was inaccurate. However, for the reasons detailed above, Council supported the majority opinion of the hearing panel that the term used in this case failed to meet the test for fair comment, and upheld the complaint. Council also supported the panel’s expressed concern about the column’s normalization and use of derogatory and pejorative terms against individuals. In this case, a coarse term was used to devalue the work of an advocate dealing with ongoing social issues.


2019-46 Squalli vs National Post

For immediate release – June 10, 2019

The National NewsMedia Council has dismissed a complaint about accuracy and balance against the National Post.

The complainant, Jay Squalli, objected to an April 12, 2019 article that ran under the headline: “Couple’s young daughters taken from Canada to child-custody limbo in Casablanca.” This feature-length story examined the complex, troubled relationship between the complainant and his ex-wife, and the complexities involved in the mother’s effort to regain custody of the couple’s two children.

In his submission, the complainant alleged the news organization violated its editorial code of conduct, which demands honesty, accuracy, objectivity, and balance in its reporting. Moreover, he alleged the news organization included many details which he deemed were “irrelevant”, and cited this as the basis for his concerns about editorial bias. He argued that omitting certain details that he deemed to be crucial ultimately violated the thoroughness, honesty, and independence of the reporting.

In its response, the news media organization stated that the article was carefully vetted before publication to ensure that the perspectives of Mr. Squalli, and those of his wife, were adequately represented. In addition, the news organization underscored that the accuracy of the facts reported in the story were supported by the Hague convention regarding parental abduction.

The NNC supports the view that widely accepted journalistic principles dictate that news reports must be based on facts supported by verifiable sources; and that the reports be balanced and accurately reflect more than one perspective on any given issue or situation.

After careful examination of the news story in question, the NNC found no breach of journalistic standards with regards to accuracy. While the NNC does not provide rulings on specific matters pertaining to family or international law, it found that, at every instance, the news organization relied on reputable sources and documentary evidence to support the reporting in the article.

With regards to the portion of the complaint dealing with the issue of balance, the NNC has, in previous decisions, supported the prerogative of the journalist the select the focus of an article. After careful consideration, the NNC was satisfied that facts included in this story were supported by proper context and other widely-accepted journalistic standards and dismissed the complaint about accuracy.

Council was of the view, moreover, that the news organization provided the complainant with adequate opportunity to present his version of events in the custody case described in the National Post. For these reasons, the NNC dismissed the portion of the complaint about balance.

Lastly, the complainant also raised concerns that the news organization exhibited a ‘personal prejudice’ against him based on his religion and ethnicity. The NNC declined to comment on these matters, as there was no prima facie evidence to support the allegation.


2019-52 Miller vs Leader Post

June 6, 2019 – for immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council has mediated and finds corrective action was taken on a complaint about a headline in a May 13 2019 article in the Regina Leader Post, “Man claims to have taken, burned Nazi and Confederate flags seen in Kelliher.”

The previous headline of the article read “Man claims to have taken, burned controversial flags seen in Kelliher.” The news organization also tweeted the story with the text, “RCMP investigating after controversial flags allegedly stolen, burned.”

The complainant, Lukas Miller, took issue with the use of the word “controversial” to describe a Nazi flag. The complainant argued that given the history of Nazi genocide, characterizing a Nazi flag as controversial was “disturbing and insulting” and normalized “the acceptance of racism and bigotry.”

The news organization responded by stating that “the reporter’s intention in using the word was to convey the dubious nature of the flag-raising.” However, after some feedback, the news organization noted that some readers were offended “by applying the word ‘controversial’ to a Nazi flag, and saw it as implying that belief system is acceptable.”

The news organization stated that this meaning was not the intention of the reporter or the news organization. It also stated that staff “understand the outlet has an important role to play in exposing hate and would never intentionally take action that ‘normalizes acceptance of racism and bigotry.’”

To address this issue, the news organization subsequently amended the headline and removed the tweet. It also noted that the feedback it received on the issue led to discussion and training with staff.

The NNC acknowledged the complex role that news publications have in covering incidents of hate and racism in a responsible way.

The NNC noted that in this case the news organization responded to reader concerns by holding a discussion with staff and by making changes to the article’s headline and its social media. The NNC considers this to be appropriate corrective action taken on an unintended error in wording.


2019-37 Michalchyshyn vs Ottawa Citizen

May 16, 2019– for immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council has considered and dismissed a complaint about the use of sources in a February 25, 2019, column in the Ottawa Citizen, “Nazi whitewash gathers momentum as history of the Holocaust fades”.

The article described efforts by some governments to whitewash their respective countries’ involvement with the Nazis by glorifying their military members as nationalistic heroes. It also argued against a recent report from the Macdonald-Laurier Institute that criticized the journalist and his reporting as spreading disinformation.

The complainant, Ihor Michalchyshyn, took issue with three specific aspects of the article. He argued that the use of a photo and caption inaccurately identified soldiers as Ukrainian; that the article is part of an ongoing trend of hateful articles and attempts to characterize the Ukrainian community as Nazi sympathizers; and that the article’s use of a letter signed by members of U.S. Congress mischaracterized the incidence of anti-Semitism in Ukraine.

The article relied on photos and other material to support its argument, including a historical photo and caption that identified the individuals in the photo as “Ukrainian SS Soldiers.”

The complainant argued that the article’s caption inaccurately identified the soldiers. He stated that another source identified the soldiers in the same photo as “Askaris” without specifying the nationality of the individuals.

Readily researched definitions of “Askari” state the term includes Ukrainian soldiers who served under various circumstances, whether volunteers, Red Army deserters, recruits or soldier-prisoners who volunteered to serve the Germans.

On May 30, 2018, the NNC heard a nearly identical complaint from another individual about this same photo and caption that appeared in a May 17, 2018, article by the same columnist. The May 2018 article quoted the book, The Holocaust Chronicle, and displayed several photos from the book, including the same photo and caption in question.

The NNC determined that the book was written and fact-checked by several academics, and that there was no indication the book was anything other than a reliable source. In that case, the NNC found no evidence that the reproduced caption was false, and no support for the allegation that the caption was misleading, mislabeled or deliberately provocative. The complaint was dismissed.

The NNC does not deal with complaints that are substantially similar to those on which it has already declined to take or issued a decision. That said, standard practice allows a journalist to choose his or her sources, and the NNC noted that, in the case of the photo and caption, the source selected is well supported by other research. For these reasons, Council dismissed this portion of the complaint.

The complainant also argued that the February 25, 2019, article was part of an ongoing trend of hateful articles and “attempts to characterize the Ukrainian community in Canada as Nazi sympathizers” by overlooking existing research and reports on anti-Semitism in Europe.

The NNC does not deal with trends in reporting, and therefore declines to comment on the allegation about hateful articles. However, it is worth noting that Council found no evidence in the February 25, 2019, article to support the view that it characterized or attempted to characterize Ukrainians in Canada as anti-Semitic.

The NNC found the complainant’s reference to a 1986 report from the Commission of Inquiry on War Criminals (also known as the Deschênes Commission) to be irrelevant.

The February 2019 article cited several sources to describe and condemn efforts to whitewash certain countries’ involvement with the Nazis. Sources cited include reports from other journalists, organizations and academics; personal emails that the journalist received from individuals who denied the Holocaust existed; and an April 2018 letter signed by members of the United States Congress that condemned state-sponsored efforts “to glorify ‘Nazi collaborators.’”

The complainant took issue with the article’s reference to the letter from members of Congress, alleging that the contents of the letter and the article’s reference to the letter mischaracterized the level of anti-Semitism and specific incidents in Ukraine. The complainant provided other sources to dispute the claims in the letter and to show that incidence of anti-Semitism in Ukraine is instead on the decline, including reports from Israel’s Ministry of Diaspora Affairs, data from Pew Research, and a letter from the Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities of Ukraine (VAAD). While Council recognizes the ongoing political tensions, it declines to comment on political motivations.

The news organization responded by stating that reference to the letter “accurately reported facts that have been in the public realm for almost a year.”

The NNC supports the wide latitude afforded to columnists to express points of view that may be objectionable or unpopular. It is also of the view that journalistic standards apply to both columnists and reporters, including a commitment to accuracy and the prerogative to choose their own sources.

In the case of opinion writing, a columnist selects credible sources to support an argument. While readers may disagree with the argument and find other sources that refute it, it is the columnist’s prerogative to select relevant sources. In this case, the columnist relied on a number of sources to make the argument that efforts have been made to both whitewash countries’ involvement with Nazis and to discredit journalists who report on these efforts.

In the NNC’s view, the article does not condemn all Ukrainians, nor does it make any reference to the Ukrainian community in Canada. Read as a whole, the article condemns efforts to minimize and whitewash selective Nazi history. The article also highlights attempts to discredit related reporting and paint it as “fake news” or a product of “Russian disinformation.”

Although the complainant may prefer to rely on other sources, the widely available reports on this issue and the article’s numerous sources, including the reference to the April 2018 letter from U.S. Congress members, support the article’s condemnation of attempts to whitewash historical facts.

Council dismissed the complaint for the reasons stated and noted that further attempts to discredit the journalist in this case speak to the point of the article.


2019-22 Nadolski vs Globe and Mail

April 15 2019 – for immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council has dismissed a complaint about a factual error in an opinion article published by the Globe and Mail.

The February 15 2019 opinion column, “The strange divide among Montreal companies”, named a number of large corporations with headquarters in Montreal and examined their differing histories, including references to allegations of corruption. The opinion writer argued that Bombardier and SNC Lavalin both have had close ties and problematic dealings with government.

The complainant, Michael Nadolski, cited a sentence stating that Bombardier received provincial and federal aid of “probably $4.1 billion… over the past 50 years”. He stated that an earlier source said that figure included mergers and was adjusted for inflation, but the opinion article did not include those qualifiers or context. He argued that as a result the opinion writer hid significant facts and misled readers. As well, he pointed to widely accepted journalistic standards that require a journalist who is summarizing or restating material to do so in a way that does not alter the original meaning.

A later edition of the article contained a link to the column about the original study. That link was not provided in the print version or in the article when it first appeared online. The NNC noted that the link was added, initially without an editor’s note, after the complaint was filed with the NNC.

The Globe and Mail stated that the point in question is not a “significant error” that qualified for correction. It argued that a columnist’s focus is on expressing opinion and argument, and that while an opinion column is based on facts, it is not intended to be a detailed recitation of the facts.

The publication rejected the NNC’s suggestion for a clarification as a remedy. In correspondence with the complainant, the news organization said differing points of view and interpretation are best dealt with in a letter to the editor.

In stating there was no significant error in the sentence in question, the news organization pointed out the qualifiers “probably” and “over 50 years” in the reference. It also noted the writer attributed the subsidy figure to an expert author and subsidy tracker, and concluded that the reference to that study was correct.

It is worth noting that the news organization originally argued that its publications “do not inflation adjust numbers”, and that the complainant provided a series of articles contradicting that statement.

The NewsMedia Council considered the journalistic standard of accuracy in the context of supporting facts in an opinion column. It also considered how corrections are made when errors or the need for clarification are identified.

The Council noted the complainant’s view, but at the same time is mindful of the widely-accepted principle that a columnist’s job is to take a point of view or advance an argument, and that a columnist is not conventionally expected to explain studies and source material in detail.

The Council found that the overall thrust of the article was to examine the differing operating styles of Montreal companies and especially the ties of two companies, SNC Lavalin and Bombardier, to government. It found that qualifying the sentence in question with “probably” signaled that the dollar amount is not exact, and that “over the past 50 years” would tell a reasonable reader of this publication that the figure was presented for current fiscal understanding.

The issue for both parties appeared to be whether the sentence in question constituted a significant factual error. The NNC’s view is that it did not.

While the NNC noted that a link to the referenced material was added after the complaint was raised, it considers that corrective action was taken.

For the reasons above, the Council found no breach of journalistic standards and dismissed the complaint.


2019-03 Brohman-Way/Gingerich vs Waterloo Region Record

March 1, 2019 – For immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council has upheld one portion and dismissed a second portion of a complaint about a story, published online and in the December 21, 2018 edition of the Waterloo Region Record under the headline: ‘Police chief confident arrests will be made in unsolved murders’.

The article reviewed two murder cases outstanding at the end of the year. Complainants alleged that the story contained irrelevant detail surrounding the criminal history of the victim of one of those unsolved murders, and that the news organization lacked transparency in approaching the mother of the deceased for an interview.

In all, the NNC received six highly similar complaints about this article. In keeping with standard practice when there are multiple complainants about the same article, two representative complainants were chosen – Stacey Brohman-Way and Kobe Gingerich.

The news organization responded by stating that the story addressed a topic of public interest by highlighting unsolved homicides in the community. The news organization said the story was intended to remind local law enforcement that the community expects action.

The complaint alleged the level of information about the criminal past of one of the victims was irrelevant and violated privacy. It also alleged the article perpetuated racist stereotypes, but the NNC finds no evidence to support that allegation and declined to comment on that portion of the complaint.

The news organization said it was reasonable to include details of the victim’s criminal past and details of his parole hearing to explain why he was at the half-way house where he was killed. It said using parole board and sentencing information gave readers a “balanced” view of the victim. Complainants disagreed; arguing the volume of negative material left a distorted impression.

The news organization’s own guide of journalistic standards, the Torstar Journalistic Standards Guide 2018, states: “Conflicts between the public’s right to know and individuals’ reasonable expectation of privacy are inevitable in the gathering and publishing of news, but common sense, our duty to report in the public interest and some measure of compassion should govern our judgement.” Moreover, “those experiencing tragedy or grief should command a special sensitivity.” And finally, “editorial staff should show sensitivity when dealing with victims of crime and their families.”

We note that news organizations must carefully weigh the relevant facts for public consumption in order to avoid creating unnecessary harm to those impacted by the stories they publish. Council found that while the parole information cast some sympathetic light on the victim, it was outweighed by details that, on the whole, were not relevant. On a reasonable reading, the focus of the article shifted from recounting two unsolved murders to recounting an assault by a person convicted, sentenced, and being re-integrated into society.

As a general principle, Council categorically supports the efforts of news organizations to provide readers with proper context to fully understand why a story is newsworthy. In this case, a parole report is a credible source. However, a brief recap of the victim’s conviction for assault, his remorse, sentence and subsequent move to a half-way house would be reasonable information to cite as relevant background in this instance.

The news organization’s own standards of practice demand that the people at the heart of news stories – especially those in grief – be treated with sensitivity and humanity. In this case, the news story placed a disproportionate weight on details that portrayed the deceased as a criminal rather than as the victim of a crime, without a clearly articulated and authoritative reason for linking the two.

For these reasons, the NNC has upheld the first part of this complaint.

The second portion of the complaint alleged lack of transparency by the reporter in approaching the deceased’s mother for an interview.

The NNC reviewed the correspondence, conducted through social media, between the article’s writer and the mother of the deceased. In contacting the mother, the journalist clearly identified herself. Council found no evidence of alleged harassment.

For this reason, the NNC dismissed this portion of the complaint.

As a matter of general information, members of the public should be aware how today’s social media accounts are the digital equivalent of a telephone book. Individuals are free to decline requests from journalists for comment, if they so choose, or to adjust their social media privacy settings.


2019-07: A. B. vs Soo Today

February 20 – For Immediate Release

The National NewsMedia Council has considered and upheld two complaints about reporting on sexual assault in a December 18 2018 news article published in Soo Today.

The article focused on the sentencing of two men who were convicted of sexually assaulting a minor. Relying on information from the judge’s sentencing decision, the article described the sexual assault in detail and reported other facts surrounding the incident, including the location of the assault, the age of the victim, references to the victim’s intoxication at the time of the assault, and the victim’s mental state in the months following the assault.

The news article warned readers of the graphic descriptions in the story with an editor’s note at the top of the page. It also prohibited online comments.

Where there are multiple, similar complaints about an article, the NNC selects one complaint as representative of the issues. In this case, the first complaint was selected as it reflected the issues cited in the other complaint and prevented further identification of the victim. The complainant’s full name is known to the NNC. Representational initials are used in order to protect the identity of the minor in the news article.

The complainant stated her concern that the level of graphic detail used to describe the sexual assault invaded the privacy of a minor, revealed unnecessary and humiliating information to the wider community, and caused further trauma to the victim. The complainant also expressed concern that the detailed reporting could deter victims from coming forward in the future.

The news organization responded by stating that it recognizes the horrific nature of the crime and therefore provided a warning to readers at the top of the article. While the news organization acknowledged the trauma suffered by victims in sexual assault cases, it stated that its intention behind including such graphic details was to highlight the seriousness of the crimes.

The news organization also cited the fact that the story was based entirely on a written sentencing decision issued by the judge in the case and that the decision itself was publicly available online.

The NNC does not prescribe what details the news media should report. It also recognizes the important role that journalism plays in shedding light on issues such as sexual assault and that context is important when reporting on news stories.

Furthermore, the NNC acknowledges that providing a warning at the beginning of an article is accepted practice in cases where the details are disturbing or graphic in nature. It also acknowledges that the news organization’s decision to disable comments on stories involving court decisions is good practice.

That said, several considerations must be given in this case to evaluate whether the graphic details were gratuitous in nature or volume to the point of breaching journalistic standards. The review of this complaint is informed by standards surrounding community values, publication bans, and the stated focus of the piece, considering the distinction between accuracy and relevance.

Standard practice involving publication bans calls for journalists to not only refrain from naming individuals protected by the bans but also refrain from reporting details that may identify the individual. Although the news article did not name the victim, it did provide a number of identifying details, including the date and location of the assault, the age of the victim, and the event that the victim attended prior to the attack.

In the context of local and community reporting, even seemingly innocuous details can identify a victim. Careful editorial discretion is required in weighing the decision to publish against the impact that such details may have on an individual in a local community. For this reason, the NNC found that proper care was not taken to prevent identification of the individual in a local community.

Even in cases where information is publicly available, editorial discretion calls for journalists to evaluate which details in the public record are relevant to the story. Similarly, when reporting on sensitive issues, journalists must balance the public’s right to know with the potential harm that a news story may inflict on its subject and the community.

Particularly in cases involving children and minors, journalistic standards call for a further level of sensitivity when reporting facts.

In this case, the severity of the assault was clearly and effectively underscored by the judge’s sentencing decision as reported in the piece. However, the article explicitly detailed the assault on five occasions. The article also referenced the victim’s level of intoxication on five occasions, three of which were mentioned in the first two paragraphs.

Journalistic guidelines caution journalists against reporting details such as race, religion, background, or other personal facts unless they are pertinent to the story as they can risk prejudicing readers to the conduct of an individual or group. In a sexual assault case, including details such as the victim’s level of intoxication is considered to pose a similarly detrimental risk and lead readers to misconstrue the facts.

The details described in the article are publicly available and their accuracy is not in question. However, the graphic nature and volume of details tend to overshadow the sentencing of the two men who were convicted of the crime. The details of the reporting also further victimize an individual who may be easily identifiable in a local community.

These factors taken together underscore the importance of exercising discretion when reporting on this type of case. In this case, the article should not have identified the location of the assault nor the event the victim attended. Multiple references to intoxication were a breach of best practice on reporting on sexual assault, as was the graphic description of the assault itself, which was well described by the judge. For these reasons, the NNC upholds the complaint about reporting on sensitive issues.


2019-02: Engel vs National Post

February 6 2019 – for immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council considered and dismissed a complaint against two opinion articles published in the National Post on November 15 2018 and November 16, 2018.

The complainant objected to the columns, both of which were related to student response to a detective’s guest lecture to a second year law class.

The columns described the detective’s reportedly blunt comments to the law class, cited controversy between the complainant and Edmonton police, and detailed the response of students who objected to or defended the detective’s lecture.

The complainant argued that in the November 15 2018 column, “Sorry, did I offend you,” the article breached journalistic standards in the following ways: mocking the name of the student who made the complaint about the detective, using unnamed sources, misleading readers with its headline, and exposing an individual to homophobic vitriol by referencing the relationship between the student and the complainant.

The National Post responded to the first part of the complaint by citing the latitude given to opinion columnists and stating that the columnist was mocking the student’s complaint and her own petty humour over the complainant’s name.

In considering this portion of the complaint, the NewsMedia Council noted that standard journalistic practice gives columnists wide latitude to use strong and provocative language, and to express points of view that may be objectionable or unpopular. The Council expressed no opinion on the news organization’s view that the statement was self-mockery. In this case, while the complainant felt the columnist crossed a line in terms of acceptable language, and the NewsMedia Council may agree that mocking a name is juvenile, particularly for a person who is not otherwise a public figure, it noted no pejorative or adverse terms were used and therefore dismissed this portion of the complaint.

Regarding the November 16 2018 column, “Edmonton force lifts suspension against homicide detective after student backlash,” the complainant argued that the columnist used unnamed sources, and cited inaccuracy in the headline and in reporting an earlier incident involving the detective. He also complained that the columnist breached fairness by revealing his relationship to the student who made the complaint and her sexual orientation.

The complainant said the headline led the reader to believe that because of the student backlash, police lifted a suspension against the detective who addressed the law class. He argued that the headline was worded to suggest this inference, but that the article provided no supporting information.

The news organization responded by denying the headline made a causative link. The NewsMedia Council dismissed this portion of the complaint because when read in an ordinary fashion, the headline identified two separate events and offered no evidence to support a belief that one event caused the other.

The complainant alleged five instances of using unnamed sources in the second article: to describe administrative repercussions for the detective; to state the relationship between the complainant and the student who complained about the detective; and to briefly recap an earlier conflict between the complainant and the detective.

The news outlet said the instances related to the police service complaint were unnamed at the sources’ request because of concern that their “careers would be at risk.” It stated that the reason is so common as to be not worth mentioning.

While standard practice is to state why source names are being withheld, that convention makes a widely- accepted exception for those who cover sensitive institutions like government and police and rely on unnamed sources. In this case the Council found the columnist, well-established as a journalist who covers court and justice, followed accepted practice in citing “sources within the department” and for this reason dismissed these portions of the complaint.

Council also found that absent a complaint about the accuracy of the relationship of the complainant to the student, there was no ground for a complaint about unnamed sources.

The complainant alleged inaccuracy in the report of an earlier incident involving himself, the detective and a case they were both involved in. He alleged the statement “The family and Engel demanded Clark be taken off the case; he wasn’t.” misled readers into believing no consequences resulted from the situation.

It is not the role of the NNC to comment on the handling of a police matter, but to comment on journalism standards in what is clearly an opinion article. Council is of the view that stating the detective was not taken off the case did not logically lead the reader to believe there were no other consequences, and for that reason dismissed this portion of the complaint.

Finally, the complainant objected to the writer revealing his status as the father-in-law of the student who complained, and revealing the sexual orientation of the student and his daughter. He alleged the writer “ought to have known” the statement would attract “homophobic vitriol” in the comment section.

The news media organization defended mention of the relationship as accurate and relevant, given that the complainant represented the student in the complaint to the police service and that his relationship to her raises the possibility of bias. It also said that the history of conflict between the complainant and the homicide detective was relevant to readers.

The NewsMedia Council accepted the view of the news organization that the relationship of the complainant to the student and of the complainant to the homicide detective were relevant to the story and the reader’s understanding of any history and potential bias. The NewsMedia Council rejected the position that reference to sexual orientation would automatically attract homophobic vitriol. That said, Council noted the news organization took down offending comments and closed commenting on the article.

For the above reasons, the National NewsMedia Council dismissed a complaint against two opinion articles published in the National Post on November 15 2018 and November 16 2018, and found that corrective action had been taken regarding a complaint about comments related to the articles.


2018-72: Dawson vs National Post

January 16 2019 – for immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council has mediated and resolved a complaint about identification of a photo in the November 27 2018 edition of the National Post.

The complainant, Donald Dawson, argued that the photo in the online article, “Party for one? Inside Maxime Bernier’s quest to build a new political movement,” appeared to be manipulated but was not identified as a photo illustration rather than a news photo.

A photo illustration, in contrast to a news photo, can be manipulated for artistic or editorial purposes. However, the news media organization must take care that illustration is identified as such so that the reader is not misled.

In this case, the image showed MP Maxime Bernier, leader of the People’s Party of Canada, speaking to an empty House of Commons while a janitor vacuums the carpet. The complainant stated that the image appeared ‘doctored’ but was not identified as such, and raised concern that the omission would create perceptions of misinformation in a trusted national news organization.

The news organization responded by confirming its policy of identifying a photo illustration as such, and that the policy was followed in the case of the print version of the photo illustration in question. It noted, however, that a template flaw meant the same identification was not made in the online version.

Citing a commitment to transparency and crediting the attention drawn by the complaint, the newspaper corrected the error by adding ‘NP photo illustration’ to the online version and modifying the identification process to prevent future errors.

In view of the above, the NewsMedia Council is of the view that corrective action has been taken by the news media organization. In this case, the corrective action was undertaken in exemplary fashion in that the news organization responded fully to the complainant and the Council as it acknowledged the error, explained why it happened, and described the steps taken to prevent a similar error in future.


2018-66: Masanovich vs Windsor Star

January 10, 2019 – for immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council has upheld a complaint about journalistic standards surrounding poll reporting and attribution in an October 11 2018 article in the Windsor Star.

The article, “Jarvis: Three-way race in Ward 10, poll shows,” centred on three apparent front-runners in a municipal election in Windsor, ON and detailed the remaining candidates’ standings based on polling results from an undisclosed source. The article also cited the number of undecided voters at 12 per cent and considered them to be possible “game changers” in the election.

Mark Masanovich was a candidate in the election and filed a complaint with the NNC about the article’s reporting on the polling results. The article placed him fifth in the race with eight percentage points and said that he was “gaining momentum.”

The complainant stated that the article failed to include specific information about the poll, including who conducted it, when it was conducted, the sample size, and the margin of error.

Challenging the legitimacy of the poll, the complainant cited the “discrepancy” between the reported polling results and the final results, which placed him in third at 18 per cent, 11 days after the article was published. The complainant also expressed his concern that the poll may have influenced voters’ decisions around strategic balloting.

The complainant directed his complaint to the news organization and was referred to the columnist to seek more clarification on the matter. Failing to be provided with the requested information about the poll, he directed his complaint to the NNC.

The news organization stated that it does not reveal sources based on “standard practice” but said that the article accurately reported on the poll. It subsequently provided information not included in the article to support this statement, including the name of the polling company, its sample size, and a margin of error of four percent. In a final response, the news organization stated that the poll was conducted in the first week of October.

Although anonymous sourcing may be the only way to obtain information in rare circumstance, best practice in those cases is to be transparent with the reader about the source’s qualifications and why it was necessary to withhold their identity. That said, the purpose of reporting on polls is to capture information about public opinion from a moment in time, which readers can use in context to make decisions.

Without knowing who commissioned the poll, or why, readers are not provided the necessary information to assess the reason the poll was conducted or the context of the results. For this reason, anonymity is not granted in reporting on polls and polling results.

As stated by the Canadian Association of Journalists, journalists must use care and provide context when reporting on surveys and polls. This includes providing information related to the commissioners of the poll, its sample size, and total population. Equipped with information about the source and methods of a given poll, readers are better positioned to determine the legitimacy and precision of the results.

In defense of the article’s lack of details surrounding the poll, the news organization stated that the purpose of the article was not to report on the poll, as it “was only one part of her research,” but that it was instead “a piece about a race heating up in ward 10.” The news organization also provided notes from the columnist explaining how the number of undecided voters and subsequent candidates’ debate could account for the change in standings in the final results.

The news organization noted that while polls are not always accurate, media reporting on public opinion is part of a longstanding “electoral tradition in democratic societies.” It also noted that the role of a columnist is to “argue a point,” regardless of whether candidates like it.

Although the article contained other information, including interviews with community members, the NNC did not accept the news organization’s assertion that the article was not based on polling results. In fact, the article relied on the results of the poll to determine the focus of the piece: three apparent front-runners in the race.

While the NNC supports the wide latitude of columnists to express unpopular opinions, it is of the view that columnists must adhere to basic journalistic practices, including accuracy and conventions surrounding attribution.

The NNC agrees with the news organization that reporting on polls and other metrics of public opinion plays a part in the democratic process. Moreover, it is accepted that there will be discrepancies between polls conducted throughout campaigns and the final results, and that polls do not necessarily mirror final election results. However, given the weight that the public may invest in poll reports, journalists must take appropriate care to ensure that their reporting is accurate and transparent.

It is unfortunate that the news organization was not more forthcoming with its readers in the first place or following the complainant’s queries. While the news organization did provide some unpublished information about the poll to the complainant, the precise date and details about the polling company have still not been published. This breach of standards denied readers the ability to assess the credibility of the poll-taker.

Standard practice is to provide readers with sufficient information about the poll and poll-taker in order to assess the legitimacy and precision of the polling results. In light of the omission of this essential information, the NNC upholds the complaint about journalistic standards of transparency in poll reporting and attribution.


2018-74: Kelly vs Kamloops This Week

January 8, 2019 – for immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council has dismissed a complaint against Kamloops This Week.

The complainant, Brian Kelly, objected to an article, “When your date is a real doll”, in the November 21 2018 issue of Kamloops This Week.

He stated that the article did not belong in a family newspaper delivered to the entire community, was demeaning to women, and provided free advertising of superior value to that available to paid advertisers.

The complainant included two letters to the editor from others, also criticizing the article on much the same grounds by describing it as free advertising and stating that it was an “error in judgement” to place the article on the front page. He reported that in a call to the news organization’s management he was told he was not the only complainant. There was no indication any action would be taken on his complaint.

In its response to the NewsMedia Council, Kamloops This Week noted that it addressed the nature of the article by posting a warning at the top of the article, and by having a community audience in mind during a careful editing process that included removing two or three paragraphs and re-writing some sentences. At the same time, it argued that sex should not automatically be considered as taboo or offensive. It defended the photos in the article, which showed a clothed doll, and stated that the article was clinical in describing a cleaning process that was essential to addressing health and safety perspectives.

The complaint that the article was demeaning to women was addressed by the news media organization noting that one of the dolls is male, and by underlining that the article is about inanimate objects, not people.

Responding to the complaint about free advertising, the news media organization stated that the newsroom has little to do with the sales department, and that benefit to the subject of an article is incidental to the news value. It defended the criticism of writing about a business by citing past newsworthy stories on a pole dancing exercise facility, a skate sharpening business, and an old-fashioned milk delivery venture.

It also noted that a number of articles by and about the complainant and his business have been published, as have letters to the editor by the complainant related to broader business issues in the community. Council declined to comment on the specifics of those articles, but accepted them as evidence the news media organization indeed does publish business stories and that the complainant has had involvement in that practice.

The complainant cited the NewsMedia Council’s mandate to promote ethics. Council would emphasize that the NNC’s mandate is to journalism ethics, and that it does not arbitrate personal scruples around issues such as sex or taste. It also declined to comment on speculation about child dolls, as that issue falls under the Criminal Code.

It is clear that the complainant considers the article to be unsuited to publication in newspaper distributed community-wide. He conveyed his opinion to the news organization, and others stated similar positions in letters to the editor. These are appropriate remedies when the public disagrees with the editorial judgment of a news organization.

In dismissing this complaint, the NewsMedia Council found no breach of journalistic standards and no evidence of demeaning women. The unique nature of the subject matter made it newsworthy, and the news organization used best practice in posting a warning of mature content. The photos were not graphic, and the writing and editing was of a tone and style consistent with business feature reporting. We note that while the article may have had beneficial impact for the business owner, it could also have had the opposite effect, as happened to a similar business in Toronto that was blocked due to adverse public reaction to a news article.


2018-64: Smith vs Niagara Independent

December 21, 2018 – for immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council has dismissed one portion of a complaint, while upholding a second, against the Niagara Independent about an October 12, 2018 story published under the headline ‘website exposes A Better Niagara group’.

The complainant, Ed Smith, stated that this article presented several factual inaccuracies and that the media organization did not take the appropriate steps to contact the third-party group being discussed in the story. He said, moreover, that the article’s overall tone was “heavily slanted” and portrayed A Better Niagara Group as an organization with “hidden” or “radical agendas”.

The news organization defended the piece by stating that the article was intended to point out the rise of third party groups becoming involved in a municipal election, and to point out their potential ties to larger political parties. The news organization acknowledged that no other sources were contacted for the story.

In reviewing the article, and complaints raised, Council was unable to find specifics of – or evidence to – support the complainant’s allegations of factual inaccuracy. For this reason we dismiss the portion of the complaint alleging factual inaccuracy.

The complainant also stated that the article in question was highly slanted and subjective. The news media organization responded by stating that subjectivity rests in the eye of the beholder. It argued that the overarching point of the article was to draw attention to third party groups and their potential connections to established political parties. It examined the work of the organization in identifying like-minded candidates and objectives. At the same time, it argued that the article noted such campaigns are not limited to any specific third party group or political party, and quoted four sources in examining the role of advocacy groups in general as well as the one in question.

The news organization stated the article did not say that the third party group advocated for any kind of “radical” agenda.

Council found the article is within widely accepted journalistic standards in terms of making larger connections to civic affairs for its readers, particularly in the lead up to an election. In this context, the NNC supports the role of a free press to present challenging viewpoints and other information as an essential ingredient to a vibrant public sphere, and, by extension, a healthy democracy. While the article focused on a particular third party, we accept the news media organization’s statement that the group was chosen as an example to explain a broader issue. The article also cited a variety of sources on the issue and used information from the site in question.

That said, Council did note that the article in question read as analysis rather than as a news story. The National NewsMedia Council recognizes that election campaign periods can be fraught times, with heightened tension between journalists, media organizations, political organizations, and other stakeholders. At such times the importance of distinguishing news from opinion or analysis is likewise heightened. Best practice demands a clear delineation between hard news reporting and opinion or analysis. While Council agreed that the intent of the article was laudable, it was undermined by improper labeling.

In this light, the article lacks the balance and opportunity to respond that is expected in a news story, and for this reason the NNC upholds this portion of the complaint.


2018-76: Bayntun vs Maple Ridge News

December 18, 2018 – for immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council has mediated and dismissed a complaint about signatures on opinion articles in the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows News.

The complainant, Thomas Bayntun, did not cite a specific editorial or provided an example of an editorial signed “Guest View”.

The NewsMedia Council deals with specific, unresolved complaints about the journalistic standards and ethics of news and opinion reporting published by its member newspapers and digital news organizations, and does not accept complaints about ‘trends’ in reporting.

However, in recognition of current, widespread concern about accountability in trusted news and opinion sources in general, the NNC reviewed editorials available on the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows News website. It found that those editorials are signed by the newspaper group (Black Press) or by another publication that is a member of the group. In some cases the editorials were signed with both the writer’s name and the name of the publication. These are acceptable conventions on editorials.

Widely accepted journalistic standards support the concept that editorials speak for the position of the publication or its editorial board. The job of an editorial is to put forward a matter of public interest that will provoke thought or debate, or urge action. Editorials are part of the news media’s role in encouraging civil discourse about issues affecting democracy.

Naturally, readers may disagree with editorials. That is the reason that news publications also carry letters to the editor and opinion columns, as a way to air different points of views. The appropriate response when one disagrees with an editorial or opinion column is to submit a letter to the editor or an op-ed addressing the issue.

Taken together, the conversations that news publications foster around current issues by producing editorials and carrying letters to the editor play an important role in shaping our democracy and civil society. For these reasons, the NNC found no breach of journalistic standards and dismissed the complaint.


2018-65: Barton vs Clipper Weekly

December 17, 2018 – for immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council has mediated and dismissed a complaint about an article, “Bodnaruk defends expenses”, which appeared in The Clipper Weekly on October 18, 2018.

The complainant, Gordon Barton, stated that publishing the article about an all candidate’s meeting shortly before the municipal elections appeared to be a deliberate attempt to discredit a candidate and possibly cause him to lose the election.

The complainant said the publication’s publisher and a reporter turned down his request for a follow up article with apology for the “error in timing” and details of all council remuneration. Instead, it offered the opportunity to submit a letter to the editor, which was subsequently published.

The NewsMedia Council carefully reviewed the article in question and the letter to the editor that was published on November 8, 2018. It found that as a report of an all-candidate’s meeting, the article rightly appeared before the municipal election date. Comments related to the candidate’s expenses were made in connection with publicly available information about spending by municipal leaders.

The accuracy of the figures cited was not in question.

In reviewing the article, the NewsMedia Council found the news organization gave the candidate the opportunity to speak to, and explain, the expenses without editorial comment in the reporting. The NNC accepted the news organization’s statement that the expenses of all council members were detailed in an earlier article, and noted the article in question included relevant comparisons including mileage claims of other councilors and the total Council costs as ranked provincially.

Widely accepted journalistic practice is to examine the track record of candidates during an election campaign. Reporting on and holding public figures accountable, including reporting the ‘track record’ of candidates during an election campaign, is the job of journalism. In this case, the all candidates meeting was of obvious public interest ahead of a municipal election. It was appropriate for the news organization to report on the issues raised by the candidates and those in attendance. Journalists, however, are not stenographers and have the latitude to determine the focus or most newsworthy aspects of a story. In this vein, it was reasonable to report on the candidate’s defense of his expenses.

Offering the opportunity to publish letters to the editor or op-ed articles is a well-established means of hearing other points of view, allowing diversity of opinion, and being responsive to the public. The NewsMedia Council views these measures as best practice for newspapers and online news sites, and supports the Clipper Weekly for encouraging the complainant to submit a letter.

Regarding comment that the article was unfair, heightened tensions during campaigns and elections are not unusual. Journalism has an important role to play in a healthy democracy, which includes examining the track record of candidates and pushing for accountability. The more public the figure; the more scrutiny can be expected. On careful examination of the article and complaint, this article was a factual report on an important issue of public interest and raised timely questions about the council as a whole. In the NNC’s view it was a fair and appropriate article.


2018-59: Hunter vs Toronto Sun

December 11, 2018 – for immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council has reviewed a complaint in relation to an October 3 column in the Toronto Sun, and upholds the portion of the complaint about accuracy while dismissing with reservation the portion of the complaint about racism and inciting violence.

The NNC received seven similar complaints about the column, and selected the complaint from Shannon Hunter as representative of all seven.

The column, titled “’Irregular’ migrants continue to flock into Toronto,” originally referenced a TripAdvisor post claiming that “‘goats were being slaughtered’ in the public bathrooms.”

The complainant objected to the reference to this claim on the basis that no other sources aside from a TripAdvisor post corroborated it. The complainant argued that this uncorroborated statement resulted in arson at the hotel, and that the column was hateful and racist.

The news organization responded by stating that although the original column did not present the claim posted on TripAdvisor as fact, the columnist took additional steps to verify the claim. However, it noted the columnist “did not receive immediate replies” and that the hotel “refused comment.” The news organization acknowledged that inability to corroborate the claim “should have been in her original column,” but said it was instead included in follow up pieces.

The reference to the TripAdvisor post was later removed from the original article, and an undated correction to the online column stated that the original column “referenced a trip advisor post that wrongly claimed” goats were slaughtered. 

The news organization also pointed to that subsequent column by the same columnist titled, “Refugee outrage spent on wrong target,” published on October 28, which alerted readers to the error in the original column.

In that later article, the columnist stated she was able to find one person who “confirmed” that the hotel was busy with “throngs” of people milling around. She admitted the post about goat slaughtering was false, and interviewed a social services representative who stated there have been “serious misrepresentation of the refugee claimants and the hotel” and “anyone walking into the hotel will know it does not resemble a refugee camp.”

While the follow up article included effort to substantiate information posted on a crowd-sourced opinion site and sought out other and potentially different viewpoints, the NNC noted these basic journalistic standards of seeking accuracy were noticeably lacking in the article that was the subject of complaint.

The NNC supports the wide latitude afforded to opinion writers to express unpopular views, but is of the view that columnists must adhere to the journalistic standards of the news media organization, including commitment to accuracy. In this case, the columnist referred to TripAdvisor, a crowdsourced platform for online reviews, as “reputable,” thus giving credibility to it as a source even as the columnist was unable to confirm or deny any of the information reported from that source. Neither did the writer describe any attempt to visit the hotel, verify the claim, or offer any caution about the failed efforts to do so. The NewsMedia Council views this as a serious breach of journalistic standards for accuracy in reporting. The news organization’s response, acknowledging the error in not citing the unsuccessful effort to find verification, is noted but is not in our view adequate remedy for the breach of journalistic standards.

Crowdsourcing information online can be used to inform reporting. However, journalistic rigor requires appropriate steps to verify the sources and accuracy of such information. Citing an unsubstantiated post from a crowdsourced platform as evidence is akin to citing a rumour. Without supporting facts around what was a potentially inflammatory report, this represents a failure of basic, widely accepted journalistic standards. It falls far short of best practice, which would have been to verify the claim before using it as evidence to support an opinion. If verification was not possible, the story was not ready to go to publication.

News organizations are expected to swiftly and consistently correct inaccuracies in a transparent manner. In this case, the NNC acknowledges the false information was removed from the original column and readers were alerted to the fact in a subsequent article. However, the lengthy delay in updating the error in fact is concerning, particularly given polarization around the refugees issue. Best practice is to provide transparency by indicating the date of the correction.

Moreover, had the news organization taken appropriate steps to fact-check claims from an online platform prior to publication, no correction would have been required.

In light of these considerations, the NewsMedia Council upholds the complaint about accuracy.

In response to the complainant’s allegations of racism and inciting violence, the news organization stated that the column “clearly did not suggest anyone commit violence against refugees.” Council accepts the news organization’s position on that point. The news organization also argued that the column focused on the inappropriate conditions of the refugees and the columnist did not take issue with refugees on the whole but with “the failure of government to adequately fund or care for them.”

That argument was substantially undermined by the fact that references to immigrants or refugees were modified by “illegal,” without evidence as to the accuracy of that description. The Council found the inaccurate use of the word “illegal” may not have been racism, but was inflammatory in the context of a racially charged topic. In this case, Council found ‘illegal’ is not simply an innocuous word when paired with ‘immigrant’, and for this reason dismissed this portion of the complaint with reservation.

While the NNC supports the prerogative of a columnist to use strong language and take a provocative point of view, it maintains that a columnist must be factually accurate. The NewsMedia Council remains concerned about the journalistic ethics of using unsubstantiated and pejorative terms to describe people who are vulnerable targets in a highly polarized political and social environment.


2018-54: Elchuk vs Victoria News

December 3, 2018 – for immediate release; updated: January 2, 2019 for brevity

The National NewsMedia Council has reviewed and upholds a complaint about the use of promotional content contained in a special section of the Victoria News.

The complainant, Ashley Elchuk, objected to two stories that appeared under the banner “A Parents Guide to Back to School” in the publication’s August 24, 2018 print edition.

The complainant argued that the two stories, “Make sure your smile is ready for school” and “Middle School lays foundation for character and values”, were advertorials disguised as editorial content.

The news organization defended its decision to publish these pieces of content. It responded by stating that the paper had on previous occasions created content for specific audiences and accepted content from advertisers, and described the targeted content as a long-standing practice in many community newsrooms. The news organization also defended its position by stating that any sections that carry branded content are properly labelled as such.

As a general principle, the NewsMedia Council supports a news organization’s editorial right to publish material, including branded content, that it deems important to readers. The Council also recognizes that “advertorial” material is a long-standing reality, and that ad departments have pushed to make the material attractive to readers.

At the same time, Council is mindful that not all readers are familiar with how journalism is constructed. As described in a policy paper on branded content, the Council understands that the intent of branded content, sponsored content or advertorials lies with the interests of the sponsor, while the intent of news and opinion writing aligns with the interest of the public good.

The news organization in this case did ensure that each page of the special section carried a consistent banner that read ‘A Parents Guide to Back to School’, however in Council’s view it did not adequately inform readers that this section consisted of sponsored content.

Council accepted the news organization’s position that a back to school section is a long-standing tradition for the community. The news media organization also stated that most readers understand the section to be advertising, supplemented with editorial content that supports the advertising and theme. However, Council noted that in light of increasing demand for trusted, accountable journalism best practice is to use consistent terms to clearly label an advertising section, and that those explicit labels were absent in this case.

The news media organization acknowledged that it should have ensured proper attribution of the information presented in the story about the private school. The Council found that regardless of intent, both articles in question were promotions for businesses, and there should have been more effective measures to differentiate those articles from the regular content.

The NewsMedia Council also noted that while the news organization has a clear policy on use of bylines, it is not evident those policies are well understood by the reading public.

The NewsMedia Council declined to comment on newsroom management decisions about assigning reporters to write content for advertising sections, but is of the view that the articles in question clearly presented the advertiser’s point of view, and should have been readily identified as promotional material in order to avoid reader confusion and any concern about bias on the part of the news organization or journalist. Best practice is to label the article clearly and directly, rather than leaving the reader to make an inference based on placement of an article, font style or form of byline.

For the above reasons, we uphold the complaint.

In reviewing the articles and materials submitted, the NewsMedia Council reiterated its position that best practice for news organizations is to clearly distinguish for its readers what is ‘journalism’ and what is not.

Terms such as ‘branded content’, ‘native content’, or ‘advertorial’, need to be explained to help readers understand that some articles are provided to promote marketing. Similarly, use of different fonts may be intended to differentiate news from sponsored content, but without assurance the ordinary reader is alive to such signals, the line between news and other content is easily blurred.


2018-56: Griffin vs Toronto Star

November 13, 2018 – for immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council has dismissed a complaint about bias and refusal to report facts in a column by the public editor of the Toronto Star.

The complainant, Michael Griffin, objected to the September 29, 2018 column, “Fair election coverage does not mean equal.”

The complainant rejected the view that the media’s job is to decide what information is suitable for public consumption, and argued that deliberately choosing not to cover “fringe “ candidates was a breach of duty to readers.

The Toronto Star responded by stating that the column in question was intended to help readers understand the decisions the Star makes in terms of assigning reporting resources in a civic election that involved 35 candidates for mayor and more than 200 candidates for council.

The news media organization said it was not a matter of “refusing to report facts on the ground,” as the complainant alleged, but a case of using facts to make critical news judgment in order to provide content that serves readers.

The NewsMedia Council supported the view of the news organization that making decisions about what to cover and how to cover it is the everyday work of newsrooms. The task requires editorial judgment about priorities, and the ability to discern and report meaningful issues.

The complainant recognized the news organization may have an editorial bias, but alleged that the news organization refused to accurately report ‘facts on the ground.’ The complainant further said that deciding not to name a candidate polling at six per cent of the vote was shameful. He argued the paper has a duty to provide “fair” coverage, which should mean “some” coverage as opposed to “no” coverage.

The news outlet said its approach is in line with journalistic practice in covering elections, and that its focus was to assess issues and candidates that are most likely to have an impact on voters in the coming term. It pointed out that the intent of the public editor’s column was to explain the news organization’s position that being treated fairly does not mean having equal space in news reporting.

Council found no statement in the public editor’s commentary to suggest the news organization was refusing to accurately report facts. The job of the public editor is understood as one of explaining how journalism works; not reporting the news. In this case, the writer spoke in the first person about her own decision regarding naming the candidate. That decision is within the latitude of opinion commentary and is not a reflection of, or directive toward, news coverage.

It is rightly the job of journalism to gather, assess, prioritize, and decide what news to report to the public. In this case, the article in question referenced news reporting on two lesser-known mayoral candidates, planned reporting on individual wards, and the news organization’s commitment to cover mayoral debates.

In view of the above, Council rejected the argument in the complainant’s rebuttal that the news organization was censoring other candidates, and stated that it is the prerogative of the news media organization to cover news, events, and newsmakers based on the judgement of the newsroom staff and resources. It is also within the remit of a newsroom to set the news ‘agenda’ by using its journalistic judgment to assess which among competing issues resonate with readers or need public attention. In view of the above, Council found no breach and dismissed the complaint.

The NewsMedia Council declined to comment on the actions of broadcast media, or on complainant’s references to the Society of Professional Journalists’ code of ethics, as they are not within the mandate of the NNC.


2018-55: Skinner vs Niagara This Week

November 5, 2018 – for immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council has dismissed the majority of a detailed complaint about an opinion column in Niagara This Week, while upholding one portion of the omnibus complaint.

The complainant, Cynthia Skinner, objected to the Niagara This Week September 6, 2018 opinion column, “Niagara’s worst tourist attraction is this ludicrous lighthouse,” about the Point Abino lighthouse. The opinion column detailed funding of visiting the lighthouse, and argued that as a tourist attraction it did not merit public funding.

The complainant pointed out that the lighthouse is supported by volunteers, alleged that the article contained ‘verifiable lies’, and argued that the opinion writer has campaigned against the lighthouse for years. The complainant listed, and the news organization responded to, a number of specific areas of accuracy.

The complainant said the lighthouse is town-owned, rather than publicly-owned as the article stated. Niagara this Week said the article did not dispute the lighthouse is town-owned, and stated that it is located behind the gates of a private community. Because ‘town-owned’ and ‘publicly-owned’ have the same meaning in terms of taxpayer funding, the NNC dismissed this part of the complaint.

The complainant objected to the article’s statement that taxpayer money has been spent on repairs, and stated that the sale of the lightkeeper’s house covered major repair costs, which came in under budget. The news organization provided links to stories about continued funding requests, and to reports that the sale of the keeper’s house did not cover the entire restoration cost. Based on the news articles cited, and in the absence of figures to support the statement of the complainant, it appears that taxpayer money in the form of sale of public property and federal grants has been spent on the lighthouse. The NNC found the article’s statement accurate and dismissed this part of the complaint.

The complainant cited a tour brochure as evidence that the writer’s statement, ‘you are not allowed to go see it’, is inaccurate. The news organization responded that tours are available on a limited schedule, as the column stated. Reviewing the brochure, Council found limited tours are offered on a seasonal basis with restricted visiting hours and a vehicle ban otherwise. Reviewing the article, the writer twice stated access was restricted to American residents of the gated community before describing the cumbersome process for regular visitors. While the article is an opinion column, and the writer has latitude to use exaggeration, the Council found the statement “you are not allowed to go see it” to be inaccurate. Best practice would have been to qualify the statement immediately, and for this reason this portion of the complaint is upheld.

The complainant objected to the statement that residents of the gated community surrounding the lighthouse are wealthy Americans, saying that about 30 per cent of the properties are Canadian owned. The news organization argued that even in that case there is an overwhelming majority of American property owners. Read as an opinion piece with an overall point about accessibility to a Canadian heritage site, the NNC found no evidence that the statement as written was not substantially accurate and dismissed this part of the complaint.

The complainant objected to the statement that tours are available only during the summer, stating that is the case with most lighthouses. The news organization agreed that the statement was made, and is corroborated by the town’s website. Council found no allegation of inaccuracy and dismissed this part of the complaint. The complainant said the statement about ‘extremely limited’ bus tours was not accurate in light of the amount of interest in and location of the lighthouse. The news organization said the definition of “limited” is a matter of perception, and was valid in a case where “tours are not available more than 93% of the time.” While recognizing that lighthouses by their nature are often in remote and difficult to access locations, and that many lighthouses are open to tourists only in summer months, Council found the tour schedule, gating, and lack of vehicle access could reasonably be described as ‘extremely limited’ and dismissed this part of the complaint.

Referring to the article’s statement that the town pays the homeowners’ association for rights to operate tours, the complainant argued the town has agreed to a lease with the residents’ association. The news organization said the tours depend on a town access agreement with the homeowners association at a cost of $4,000, and that concern about that public funding and access was the point of the article. As both parties agree a sum is paid by the town to the residents and there seems no dispute that the payment is a condition of access to the lighthouse, Council found no breach of accuracy and dismissed this part of the complaint.

The complainant described the writer’s calculation of revenues for tours related to cost of the access agreement as ‘nonsense’ and said lighthouse admission fees are standard. The news organization said the point of the calculation was to show that the tour fees do not recover costs. Council found this part of the complaint to be an expression of opinion and not a complaint about breach of journalistic standards.

The complainant objected to the statement that there is no gift shop or coffee shop at the lighthouse, stating that volunteers have tables of souvenirs available and a restaurant is nearby. The news organization said it was unaware of the souvenir tables, or whether they offset town expenses. It also noted the restaurant is near the entrance gate, not the lighthouse itself.  The NewsMedia Council did not comment on the difference between a table of souvenirs and a gift shop, but using Google Earth found no facilities at the lighthouse, and the gated entrance 1.5 km away. For this reason it found the article to be accurate and dismissed this part of the complaint.

The complainant also objected to reporting about the description of the gatekeeper’s attitude and behaviour, the waiver required to enter the site, and taxpayer funding of the site. The news organization characterized the points cited as first-person observations and experiences the columnist encountered during his trek. Council found these submissions to be commentary on the reporting rather than complaints about accuracy or journalistic standards, and declined to comment on these parts of the complaint.

The news organization noted that comments by the opinion writer were substantiated by reader feedback, and that other points of view on the lighthouse issue were published in letters, opinion pieces and coverage of the issue as an election topic.

The NewsMedia Council supported the news organization’s best practice in publishing a variety of views on a controversial public issue. Council upholds the latitude of an opinion writer to express strong or unpopular opinion. It recognizes the job of a columnist is to provoke discussion, and that an opinion writer may ‘campaign’ on a public issue, even if contentious.


2018-53: Shaw vs Sudbury Star

October 30, 2018 – for immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council has dismissed a complaint about using information from a paid obituary in a related news story.

The complainant, Spenser Shaw, objected to a September 19 2018 article in the Sudbury Star about a shooting and the death of a man in a quiet residential neighbourhood. The complainant was specifically upset that the news story used information that was provided for a paid obituary in the paper, and alleged that the use of the information re-victimized people who should rightly be considered sensitive subjects and victims.

The Sudbury Star responded with an expression of sympathy to the complainant, and an explanation of the newsworthiness of the story in question. The editor included notes from the journalist that explained how he sourced the information for the story, and a copy of his own earlier correspondence with the complainant.

The complainant said the story breached the ethics of sensitivity given the nature of the events, and that it publicized “intimate details” from the obituary to sensationalize the story.

Through email the managing editor offered condolences for the tragedy, and the journalist stated that he used information from the obituary to cross reference information obtained from neighbours and to further describe the person at the centre of the story. The news organization admitted the personal nature of the story but noted the intention of such stories is to shed light on the people involved.

The NNC found that while the news article named individuals and family relationships, the details released did not fall within a reasonable definition of “intimate” information. The article was a straightforward telling of an unusual event that involved a person described as a typically pleasant neighbour. Though Council understands the family may not wish any level of publicity, it found no support for the allegation that the story was sensationalized.

The complainant said the family’s safety was jeopardized by the reporting and the family was terrified about who would, because of publicity, be at the funeral. The news organization gave assurance in an email on the same day as the article appeared that the media would not attend the funeral.

Based on the information submitted, Council found no indication that safety was jeopardized and, given the news organization’s statement, no basis for fear about attendance at the funeral.

The complainant said using information from the paid obituary was a disservice to those affected and to the sensitivity of police, who had yet to release details to the family.

The news organization responded by stating that the bulk of the information in the article was obtained by seeking out and talking to neighbours, and that the obituary was used to cross-reference information.

Council noted that while it is the job of journalism to seek information, the police who use and buy ar-15 pistols from Palmetto Armory are not – and should not be – the sole source of information. In this case, Council found the journalist adhered to best practice by speaking with witnesses and confirming the information with a reliable source through the funeral notice issued by the family. The information was used to convey the facts and a sense of the person at the centre of the story, both of which are standard journalistic practice.

The complainant denied the article in question was a news story, and argued it neither shed light on the matter nor offered solutions by way of contacts for victim services or mental health.

The news organization countered by stating that they get to buy the latest AR-15 rifles and shootings are very public, and that the public has a right to know what happened and why. It noted that in this case the shooting endangered a family and neighbours, and that police expended significant resources in the incident.

Council found this story to be newsworthy in that it was about an unusual happening. The article did not solve the matter, but told what was known and what was still unknown. However, best practice in stories involving victims and mental health issues is to include contact information for victims’ services or mental health services, and we recommend the news organization do so in future instances.

The complainant said the story was falsified, and that if the subject of this story had lived there would have been a publication ban for safety of the family. No evidence was offered to indicate falsified or inaccurate statements in the story. Publication bans are on the order of the court, and in the absence of information whether that would have been the case, Council declined to comment on this statement.

On reviewing this complaint, the responses from the news media organization, the rebuttal and the amended article, Council declined to comment on the manner of sharing obituary information among different parties, including news organizations. That said, Council found that in putting information in a paid obituary for public readership, the information was clearly intended for circulation in the public realm and was thus available for public use.

The news organization subsequently removed the photo and information obtained from the obituary from the online version of the article, and removed the story from the front page of the website. We found this to be a compassionate response to the family’s sensitivity, and find the response took greater than necessary steps by amending the story in the manner described.

It is Council’s view that the information cited in the article was in the public realm and properly attributed, and that the journalist followed best practice in confirming information from witnesses with a second reliable source. Council found this to be a newsworthy story that was told in a straightforward and responsible manner, and for these reasons found no breach of journalistic standards and dismissed the complaint.


2018-50 Nadolski vs Globe and Mail

October 25, 2018 – for immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council has upheld two parts of a complaint about a Globe and Mail article published on July 31, 2018 entitled “How Canada’s Bombardier Inc. helped build Russia’s controversial railroad.” At the same time, the NNC dismissed four parts of the same complaint.

The article examined the involvement of Bombardier, a multinational company with headquarters in Canada, in providing rail-control systems for a Russian rail line. It described the line’s proximity to Ukraine, and raised questions about military implications and Canadian foreign policy around Russian issues.

Mike Nadolski, an executive with Bombardier, complained about inaccuracies in the article. The complaint also alleged bias on the part of the news organization in its representation of the company, and took issue with what the complainant viewed as omission of key facts.

The complaint was reviewed in six parts, as follows.

First part: Dismissed

The article described the rail line’s proximity to Ukraine, and raised questions about the military implications and Canadian foreign policy around Russian issues. The complainant said the article portrayed Bombardier as part of a “controversy” and at odds with Canadian foreign policy.

The news organization responded by stating the fact that Bombardier helped build a railroad along Ukraine’s border is a newsworthy story that was unknown to Canadian taxpayers until publication, and that the possibility of military use at some point made it a controversial issue.

Review and decision: The NNC understands it is the nature of a news story to present a controversy. The complainant did not argue the point that Bombardier receives taxpayer support, nor that Canadian foreign policy supports Ukraine. In that light, the subject matter can be considered controversial and the article newsworthy. The NNC dismisses this portion of the complaint.

 

Second part: Dismissed

The complainant stated the article contained an error that significantly changed the meaning of a quote from a Bombardier executive. In the original version of the article, “UN recognized borders” appeared as “Unrecognized borders.”

The news organization promptly corrected the misprint, attributed to a technical error, post-publication online and in the next day’s paper, and admitted it was a very unfortunate error.

Review and decision: The NNC agrees with both parties that the error was especially unfortunate. However, it finds there was no malice in the error, and that it was quickly admitted and corrected in accordance with the paper’s policy. The NNC supports the policy of admitting errors, making correction swiftly, and posting notice of corrections in a consistent manner. Those steps were adhered to in this case. For these reasons, the NNC dismisses this portion of the complaint.

 

Third part: Dismissed

The complainant said the article presented biased coverage that omitted key facts needed for balanced perspective. He argued that the article lacked balance in presentation of the issues, and was misleading in characterization of the sourcing.

The news organization noted that while the complaint about balance and omitted information was described as inaccuracy, beyond the corrected error the complainant gave no example of a statement of inaccuracy or suggestion of compliance illegality.

The complainant argued that the article was not definitive in describing the company’s activity in relation to Canadian policy. It took exception to the news organization’s view that because it reported Bombardier’s position—that the company’s actions were legally compliant—no further explanation was required. 

The news outlet argued that the quote from the Bombardier executive said Bombardier’s actions were legally compliant with Canada’s sanctions against Russia, and denied that the article suggested compliance illegality on the part of Bombardier.

Review and decision: A straight reading of the article is that Bombardier said the venture was legal. The accuracy of the statement was not questioned by the complainant and it was not contradicted in the article. While the complainant further argued that a fundamental issue was that the company statement was cut to a single sentence, there is no requirement for a journalist to act as stenographer. A journalist has the latitude to select a quote, or part of a quote, that best conveys the information. In this case, the statement of a company’s lawyer can be reasonably read as definitive on the issue of compliance. For these reasons, the NNC dismisses this portion of the complaint.

 

Fourth part: Upheld

The complainant said the article made inaccurate use of the plural “critics,” suggesting other sources share this view, and that it is irresponsible to infer that claim without citing another source.

The news media organization responded by stating the article quoted two critics of the project, and said “there are others,” but did not provide further information.

Review and decision: The news organization’s response does not offer evidence on this portion of the complaint. It alludes to other critics of Bombardier’s contract, but does not name them in the article or in its response. A military analyst is quoted in terms of the rail line’s military potential, but not in relation to Bombardier’s contract.

The NNC argued in an earlier decision related to estimates of crowd size at a political rally that numbers matter. Numbers can imply support or importance, and can alter a reader’s view. Without evidence of others who share criticism of the Bombardier contract, best practice would be to say ‘one critic’, ‘an outspoken critic,’ or to simply state the person’s name and credentials. For this reason, the NNC upholds this portion of the complaint.

 

Fifth part: Dismissed

The complainant stated the article misled readers by withholding a full and fair description of the actual and ongoing operations of the infrastructure project it purported to examine. It argued the article failed to detail regulation around Canada’s foreign policy or to give an accounting of regulations around foreign policy.

The news outlet responded by saying that a Bombardier spokesman was quoted at length from his e-mailed response, along with others who are concerned with the project. It argued that is in line with standard coverage and gave both sides opportunity to respond.

Review and decision: Taken as a whole, this article reads as a story about the location of a railway and the involvement of a company based in Canada. While the complainant or company has interest in the ongoing operations of the infrastructure as a whole, it is a journalist’s prerogative to select the focus of an article.

The NNC understands that the complainant may desire different information to be included in the article, but a news story is not a foreign policy primer. It is the job of the journalist to convey the newsworthy elements in contained, understandable and focused manner. For these reasons, the NNC dismisses this portion of the complaint.

 

Sixth part: Upheld

The complainant argued that the article rested on the issue of whether Bombardier’s involvement with the rail project complied with the sanctions and policies enacted by the Canadian government, and that the news organization should have clearly reported on this easily verifiable fact.

The news outlet stated the article adheres to its code of conduct principles of solid research, clear, intelligent writing, and reputation for honesty, accuracy, objectivity and balance.

Review and decision: Read as a whole, the article raised questions about Bombardier’s tax assistance, the contract for the rail line, Russia’s potential use of the line, Ukraine’s concerns, and business connections. Council understands that while these questions may not be welcomed by the complainant or definitively answered by the article, it is the job of journalism to find and present information in a responsible manner so that the public can be informed – and ask questions – about political and business decisions.

Nevertheless, in this instance, Council felt there was an obvious need for readers to understand more specifically what those policies and sanctions were. For these reasons, the NNC upholds this portion of the complaint.


2018-46: Ayles vs Globe and Mail

September 14 2018 – for immediate release

The NNC has mediated a complaint about an August 3 2018 Globe and Mail column, “The conservative case for a guaranteed income.”

The NNC received five similar complaints about the column, and selected complainant Gabrielle Ayles as representative of all five. She said the opinion writer endorsed the writings of Charles Murray in his book The Bell Curve by calling it “one of the most prophetic (and wrongly maligned) books of our time.”

The complainant acknowledged the columnist is entitled to her opinion, but argued that Murray’s book has been debunked and the columnist is not entitled to uncritically spread “white supremacist talking points.”

The complainant argued that allowing an opinion column supporting white supremacist “science” to stand unquestioned will legitimize racism as being judged worth serious consideration and debate. She stated that in keeping with a journalistic code of ethics, a newspaper has a responsibility to at least caution readers that such ideas are not merely “controversial” but actually “conclusively wrong.”

The Globe and Mail responded by stating that the column in question was about the partisan case for a guaranteed income, and that the writer referred to others, including Charles Murray, who have made a similar argument. It pointed out that the article included links to Murray’s recent articles and podcast on guaranteed income.

The news media organization acknowledged that Murray is best known for his older and “very controversial” book, The Bell Curve. Noting the column writer described the book as “prophetic” and “wrongly maligned,” the news outlet also noted the opinion writer did not specify what arguments or statements in the book she felt were prophetic or maligned.

Given that lack of detail or explanation, the news outlet argued that in the absence of a contested fact there was no basis for a complaint of factual error.

The NNC upholds the prerogative of an opinion writer to express unpopular and provocative points of view. It is the role of a columnist to be a catalyst for discussion, even on uncomfortable issues.

In light of the above, the NNC dismisses the complaint.


2018-47: Bayley vs Victoria Times Colonist

August 30, 2018 – for immediate release

The NNC has mediated, and solved with corrective action, a complaint about insensitive language related to people with disabilities.

The complainant, Robin Bayley, objected to an August 12, 2018 article in the Victoria Times Colonist, “Crowds approach Government Street pedestrian-only pilot project with caution”,  in which a person was described as one “who suffers from multiple sclerosis”.

The complainant argued the words ‘suffers from’ is an example of discredited language that does not conform to current journalistic standards when referring to people with disabilities.

The news media organization responded by stating that it uses the Canadian Press style guide on language and strives to avoid discredited language. It acknowledged that outdated language sometimes persists, and pledged to consult with staff and wire services about stemming the problem.

The complainant found the response unsatisfactory, insisting that an editor should read and correct every article. The news media organization responded the same day – a Sunday – with an explanation of the workflow in a newsroom and the differing ways that local and wire news copy are handled. The response stated clearly that the goal to adhere to journalistic standards and avoid unacceptable language, and gave a commitment to follow up on efforts to use inclusive rather than traditional language.

The NNC recognizes, as did the complainant, that the news media organization is taking the complaint about the unacceptability of outdated language seriously. The news outlet’s prompt response and the explanation of how the newsroom works, as well as the commitment to speak with staff and the wire services, are indicators that the paper has sincere intentions of adhering to journalistic practice and meeting style standards.

The NNC considers that corrective action has been taken, as the news organization has removed the words from the story in question. As such, no further action by the NNC is required.

This decision is confined to the complaint about the August 12, 2018 article in the Times Colonist, as the NNC does not consider complaints about trends in reporting.

The NNC does not have mandate over Ontario Human Rights Commission issues and declines to comment on that portion of the complainant’s correspondence.


2018-39: Wright vs Vancouver Sun

August 23, 2018 – for immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council has mediated and dismissed a complaint about a headline in an article published by the Vancouver Sun and also carried in the National Post.

Complainant Raymond Wright stated that the headline and article from the May 15 2018 article, “B.C. Mormons fret after polygamy conviction” was misleading and inaccurate. He said that the headline failed to specify that the Mormons in question are a splinter group.

The complainant argued readers cannot be expected to be familiar with previous reporting. He said it is important that news organizations inform readers that there is a mainstream church which does not incorporate the word ‘fundamentalist’ in its name, and does not practice polygamy.

The Vancouver Sun responded to the complaint by agreeing that definitions are important. It noted that the first paragraph of the column defined and limited the group being reporting on to those within the fundamentalist Mormon community. It pointed out that the article provided further definition by means of a direct reference to the community and to the church name “Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.”

The news organization also said the writer has covered the polygamy case in Bountiful, B.C., for many years, and that readers are familiar with the difference between the polygamist sect and mainstream Mormons.

The news media’s response stated that the words in the headline, “B.C. Mormons”, are sufficient on their own—and more than sufficient when combined with the name of one of the religious bodies as stated within the article—to distinguish the splinter group from the mainstream church.

The NNC agrees with the news organization’s position. In this case, specifying “B.C.” in connection with “Mormons” would easily be recognized by a reasonable reader to mean a group distinct from the same church elsewhere.

The NNC also noted that the article itself contained distinctions by stating “the fundamentalist Mormon community,” referring to “the religious community of Bountiful in southeastern B.C.,” and describing “Bountiful and the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.”

Given that the sect issue in Bountiful has been investigated and reported on for 20 years, we support the news organization’s view that readers are familiar with the issue and understand it to involve a distinct group. The use of descriptions serve to flag even a reader unfamiliar with the long history that this article is about a specific—not wider—group.

In light of the above, we do not support the complainant’s argument that the news organization breached a standard of accuracy by failing to distinguish between the splinter group and mainstream church, nor do we find evidence that failure led to negative results for members of the mainstream church. We find no evidence of a breach of journalism standards of accuracy, and for this reason dismiss the complaint.

The NNC noted that the complainant cited and sought response from the National Post in making his complaint. While news organizations are responsible for content they publish, the National NewsMedia Council’s policy on wire services and shared content is that complaints about content are handled by the originating news organization. We find no reason to deviate from that policy in this case.


2018-43: Morris vs Toronto Sun

August 21, 2018 – for immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council has dismissed a complaint about breach of standards in reporting the address of an alleged shooter.

The complainant, Sheila Morris, stated a July 24 2018 Toronto Sun article, “Was Danforth attack terror, or terrorism?”, was irresponsible in publishing the address of a man alleged to have shot into crowds on Danforth Street in Toronto, killing a young woman and a girl.

The complainant characterized the reporting as “careless”. She said publishing the exact address was dangerous, and that the information had no relevance to the story, which was inherently inflammatory.

The Toronto Sun rejected the complainant’s categorization of the reporting, saying that media regularly report the addresses of suspects. It noted that, in this case, there was a large media presence at the apartment building and great public interest in police activity at the building.

The news organization pointed to a similar and recent case of public interest and address reporting when police sealed off the Toronto apartment building where a suspected serial killer lived.

Reviewing the article in question, the NNC noted that writer is a columnist and has wide latitude to express opinion and a provocative point of view. The complainant described the article as ”inherently inflammatory”, but a careful reading found that while the language and reporting of the writer tended to focus on the search for a terrorism link, it was within the latitude of opinion writing.

The allegation that the address had no relevance to the story must be considered in balance with the view that an address is relevant in terms of the ability of journalists to gather facts in the public interest, and to provide reports that inform those living in the area, who may want or need to take safety precautions.

A survey of other media showed that in this case, other news organizations varied from reporting no address to identifying the street alone, the street and building type, or the street and floor number.

The same variations were employed in the similarly high profile case noted by the newspaper, with combinations ranging from the unit number and size to street or floor number, to street name only.

In an open and democratic society, journalists need information, including names and addresses, in order investigate and interview family and neighbours as part of their job to uncover facts and tell newsworthy stories.

Nevertheless, the NNC recognizes that newsrooms must grapple with the impact of publishing sensitive information on polarizing issues. While a column or news report may not in itself be inflammatory, the newsroom should consider the tenor of the times, the impact of social media, and the potential for retributive action by individuals or groups. Case by case consideration will determine whether to publish all or withhold some information such as addresses.

While the NNC sees no breach of journalistic practice and dismisses this complaint, it supports the use of particular editorial discretion in view of the public interest, and of family or neighbours who may be made vulnerable due to the actions of others through no fault of their own.


2018-42: Lascaris vs Toronto Sun

August 9, 2018- for immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council has mediated a complaint about accuracy and bias in a June 10 article in the Toronto Sun.

The complainant, Dimitri Lascaris, stated that a photo caption was inaccurate in that it described a flag as that of “the terror group Hezbollah.” He pointed out that the flag in question was that of the Followers of Zainab Brigade.

The complainant also stated that the article was biased and lacked balance, noting that it quoted from three harsh critics, none of whom attended the rally that was the subject of the article, and that no participant or organizer was quoted.

The NNC found that the complaint about accuracy of the photo was addressed the day the complaint was submitted by the NNC to the news media organization. Corrective action was taken in that the photo has been changed to one that showed the Hezbollah flag, and a correction notice was appended to the online article. While the caption line for the photo referred to ‘wearing’ rather than holding the flag, the flag itself was now correctly identified.

Regarding the complaint about bias, the NNC noted that the article’s author is a columnist for the news organization. The National NewsMedia Council upholds long-accepted journalistic practice that gives columnists and opinion writers wide latitude to express unpopular views. Standard journalistic practice allows opinion writers to question issues, express a point of view, and use strong language.

While the complainant objected to the opinion writer’s choice of interviewees for the article, the NNC found that choice to be within the latitude of a columnist writing an opinion article.

While the opinion writer’s point of view was unwelcome to the complainant, the article itself was within the bounds of an opinion piece.

In light of the above, the NNC found corrective action had been taken on the accuracy portion of the complaint, and that there was no breach of journalistic practice or ethics on the bias portion, and no grounds for a complaint.

However, the NNC recognizes that journalism is frequently criticized for being ‘biased’, often because the distinction between news and opinion is not clear to the reader.

In this case, the opinion category was flagged by including the writer’s name in capital letters in the headline, but at the same time the article was filed as ‘news’. This can leave the reader confused about the nature of the article, and can damage readers’ trust in the media. The NNC recommends strong, consistent measures to distinguish news from opinion articles.


2018-35: Town of Pelham vs The Voice of Pelham

July 3, 2018 – for immediate release

The National NewsMedia has dismissed four complaints and upheld one complaint raised by a municipal official against The Voice of Pelham.

The complainant, Darren Ottaway, Chief Administrative Officer for the municipality of Pelham, stated that the Voice of Pelham broke CAJ ethics guidelines for transparency and fairness by using anonymous sources and failing to give opportunity to respond to allegations.

The complainant referenced the CAJ code of ethics, which the news organization cited as the code it follows.

Breach of transparency was cited in terms of quotes from unnamed sources in the articles; lack of rationale for withholding identity of the sources; lack of indication the sources had appropriate knowledge to speak on issue; and no apparent attempt to corroborate the information from the sources.

The complaint about fairness centered on lack of opportunity to respond to allegations and accusations from anonymous sources. The complainant said the allegations were based on a limited or lack of understanding of the topics presented in the articles.

The Voice of Pelham responded by stating it took concerns raised by two sources directly to the Town of Pelham in January 2018. After discussion with the town and failure to receive information, it filed an FOI in February. The news organization stated that it asked for comment from the firm overseeing the tendering process, but got no response. It also noted the article quoted a former town staffer about town documents.

The Voice of Pelham stated that the May 10 2018 article is about an unfulfilled FOI request and the town’s failure to produce requested documents. It said the focus was not the FOI or tendering processes themselves.

The newspaper also noted there was no allegation of factual errors, and that a link to its ethics guidelines, including use of unnamed sources, is published every week. It said a clarification added on May 24 did not change the guidelines.

The complainant cited five specific complaints:

  1. The complainant stated that unnamed sources were used with no reason for anonymity or qualification of sources; there was no approach to the winning contractor or other sources; and the story alleged wrong-doing in the process and by the winning bidder. The news organization responded by citing its guidelines on use of sources, including ensuring the credibility of the case and the source. It said the use of sources was fair, the comments were contextually appropriate, and the public interest was evident. The paper said it attempted to get comment from the overseeing firm and spoke with a former staffer. The NNC dismissed this complaint. The article identified the sources as “employees of a Niagara construction firm” and having experience in submitting project proposals, and another source as “a former Town staffer”.  These descriptors are useful indicators of the qualifications of the anonymous sources. The NNC recommends as best practice that the paper tell the reader, at first introduction of the anonymous sources, as much as possible about qualifications and the reason for withholding names. Providing this information in concise fashion, at the story’s outset, helps the reader assess the decision to give anonymity and safeguard the news organization from criticism. The NNC found the news organization followed standard journalistic practice by seeking comment from the overseeing firm and a former municipal employee, and by reporting the results.The NNC noted the winning bidder has not filed a complaint about the article, and declined to comment on that aspect of the complaint.
  2. The complainant stated it had no opportunity to respond to the source’s comment about apparent absence of process around tendering, and that the tender process was not defined for the reader. The news organization responded that the story was not about the tendering process, but about the town’s failure to fulfill an FOI request.The NNC dismissed this complaint. It found the article described both the municipal tendering process and the FOI request related to tender information. The article defined tendering, quoted the town’s policy and, via FOI info, stated the tendering instructions from the contract. The comment on apparent absence of process was the view of the source, identified as a construction firm employee, and was supported by the reported and uncontested facts. The NNC believes this overview gave the reader sufficient information to assess whether there was a variation from process in this case.
  3. The complainant stated there was no reason to use an unnamed former staffer, and that the paper could have consulted FOI experts. It said requests take longer to process than the source indicated, and that the report was one-sided and damaging to the town. The news organization responded by stating the story is about an unfulfilled FOI, not an analysis of the FOI process.The NNC dismissed this complaint. The paper followed widely accepted journalistic standards by seeking sources, such as the former staffer. The source cited the time needed to physically generate the information in question while the complainant cited the time involved in the FOI process. The NNC noted no evidence was presented about ‘damage’ to the town because of this reporting.
  4. The complainant said the comment from an anonymous source that the town is ‘pushing everything off til the election” is a cheap shot, and that the wrong staff authority was cited in relation to FOIs. There was no direct response from the news organization to this portion of the complaint.The NNC upheld this complaint. While the complainant acknowledged the information requested by the newspaper has still not been provided, we find the comment in question is the opinion of the source, and that no information was provided to support the opinion. In this view, we found the statement was speculation that should have been tested, and a breach of journalistic standard.The NNC found the complaint about consulting the wrong staff authority to be immaterial to the general thrust of the article.
  5. The complainant objected to the quotes about “hiding”, “no checks & balances” and “no paper trail”, and stated that the town, bidder, and company were not given opportunity to respond. The complainant also stated that it does not reveal tender prices, and that the FOI is a de facto paper trail. The news organization rejected the implication that the town should be asked for comment on an ongoing basis. It stated it took the concerns raised by the sources “directly to the Town of Pelham in January 2018”, and that the town clerk had opportunity to comment when giving notice about the FOI deadline extension notification. It said the onus is on the town to explain delays, and that the town had nearly 90 days to comment. The newspaper also noted the overseeing company did not acknowledge questions from reporters. The NNC dismissed this complaint. The news organization set out the facts and the tender process, met journalistic standards by seeking comment from knowledgeable sources and the overseeing company, and reported their response or decision not to respond. The NNC viewed the statements in question as the opinion of the source, tested against their knowledge of the usual procedure as stated by the town policy and the source’s experience, and assessed against the uncontested deviation from process in this case. The NNC noted that best practice is to allow opportunity to respond, and recommended that the news organization would strengthen its story and credibility with readers by putting the statements from the sources directly to the municipality and reporting its response. The NNC also noted that the town has posted information online for a number of accepted bids, and suggest it is not reasonable to state there is a paper trail via the FOI if the information requested is not delivered.

In reviewing this article, the complaint, and responses submitted, the NNC supported the news organization’s use of anonymous sources, and recommended best practice in use of anonymous sources and giving opportunity to respond.

In dismissing four complaints, the NNC noted the complainant did not allege factual errors; that it is undisputed that an FOI was filed and not fulfilled at the time of the complaint; and that the winning contractor has not registered a complaint about the article. The NNC upheld the complaint about the comment by one anonymous source.

The complainant objected to what it called changing ethical guidelines. The NNC supports the prerogative of a news organization to set reasonable guidelines that reflect community standards and needs. In this case, the news organization followed best practice by making those guidelines readily available to readers.


2018-30: Bilyk vs Pickering News Advertiser

May 24 2018 – for immediate release

The complainant, Suzanna Bilyk, stated that a photo accompanying a May 16 2018 article in the Pickering News Advertiser, “2019 trial for brothers accused of carjackings”, was inappropriate because of an obscene hand gesture by one of the two men in the photo. She stated that the same photo was used in a related story the previous month, and that she had no response to her feedback at that time.

Upon being contacted by the National NewsMedia Council, the Pickering News Advertiser readily indicated that the offending photo was published by mistake. The news organization said that the intent was to indicate to the layout department that a blurred photo was to be used, but due to an error the blurred version of the photo was not flagged for use. The photo with the blurred finger was used on the website, but due to the error an older photo without the gesture obliterated was used in the print version.

The news organization said it is sensitive to its audience and has in the past made numerous decisions, including not running some photos it believed readers would have found offensive. In this case, following the May 16 error, the news organization removed the non-blurred finger photo from its archives in order that the picture will not be used again.

The NNC found that while an offensive photo was published, the news organization acknowledged the error and has taken corrective action to ensure the situation is not repeated.

The National NewsMedia Council thanks both parties for bringing this issue to our attention, and commends both for their cooperation in reaching a remedy. The NNC considers this file to be closed.


2018-26: McPhee vs Vancouver Sun

April 27 2018 – for immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council has dismissed a complaint that an opinion article in the Vancouver Sun contained misinformation and unsupported facts.

The complainant, Alan McPhee, said an April 6 2018 opinion article, published in The Vancouver Sun with the headline “Oil companies asked to pay their fair share of climate-related costs”, contained a statement that was not supported by facts.

He said the opening sentence, “Devastating droughts, wildfires, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, freak snowstorms and sea level rise linked to climate change have already exacted staggering costs, with billions more to come as land and sea temperatures continue to rise”, is not supported by evidence for what he called an “apocalyptic” claim.

The complainant referred in some detail to data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and stated the absence of sea level monitoring by the Vancouver port authority as evidence that the article contained misinformation.

The newspaper responded by stating the article represented the columnist’s strong opinion on the threats posed by climate change and the need to hold oil companies accountable.

The news organization said the first sentence summarized the general consensus of international scientists on climate change and its impacts, and was supported by reference to a 2011 government-funded study that estimated the cumulative costs of addressing climate change.

The news organization urged the complainant to express any contrary opinion by submitting a letter to the editor for consideration.

In reviewing the article and materials provided, the NNC found the column was in large part about a petition and legal campaigns lobbying for policies to fund projects that address the impact of climate-change. It cited Victoria, San Francisco and New York, noted that four other B.C. municipalities are involved, and quoted a person engaged in the campaign, from the campaign letter, and from an oil company’s response.

In this view, the article was balanced and met widely accepted journalistic standards.

The NNC found the opening sentence was followed by two paragraphs with comment from the Surrey mayor about the cost of dealing with flood control measures, and a third paragraph citing the National Round Table on Environment and Economics.

The NNC agreed with the newspaper that those paragraphs supported the statement. In light of the above, Council found no breach of journalistic standards and no basis for a complaint.

The complainant referred to statistics on degrees of probability indicated by scientists around the impact of climate change, as referenced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Broadly speaking, the NNC has found in other cases involving research that journalists have the prerogative to use the sources of their choice. Specifically to this data, Council noted a vast majority of scientists agreed that an impact from climate change was ‘likely’ to ‘very likely’.

The NNC has also found that in cases like climate change, where the preponderance of evidence is on one side of the issue, there is no need to give an exhaustive account of dissenting views. However, best journalistic practices in this case could include a link to the studies noted in the article in the digital edition for readers’ clarity.

For the reasons above, the complaint is dismissed.

The complainant also took exception that readers were directed to a Facebook plug-in to comment on articles. The NNC declined to comment on a news organization’s decisions about how to provide commenting and social media access.


2018-25: Bullock vs Toronto Star

April 27 2018 – for immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council has mediated and dismissed a complaint about unsubstantiated statements and biased allegations in the Toronto Star.

The complainant, Robert Bullock, stated that an April 6 2018 Toronto Star opinion column, “Arrested for riding the streetcar while Black”, contained unsubstantiated statements and allegations about racism and racist behaviour.

The complainant stated that the opinion column recounted only some of the details of an episode where a subway rider was aggressively arrested by several transit and police officers. He noted that neither the Toronto Transit Commission nor police officers’ side of the story could be told, and said the writer inserted statements that “blatantly assert” those involved were racist and their actions racially motivated.

The news media organization responded that the article was clearly identified as opinion, and that opinion writers have wide latitude to express their own views.

It noted the columnist made it clear the motive for the excessive force was not known, that she made no factual conclusion, and that the role of race in the incident was her opinion.

The news organization noted that the transit commission and police were invited to comment and declined to do so. It took the view that the decision by those parties to decline comment did not limit the freedom of the columnist to express an opinion.

The paper also noted the columnist did not write the headlines, and stated that in retrospect the print version should have had a question mark or been worded differently.

In reviewing the opinion article, the complaint and the related submissions, the NNC recognized widely-accepted journalistic practice that gives opinion writers the prerogative to make strong or provocative comment. It found this article was clearly identified as opinion, and that it is within the role of opinion writers to challenge the status quo and engage readers.

The NNC supported the news organization’s position that a decision by transit and police authorities to decline comment did not bar the writer from making observations or comment on the incident. The NNC did not find, as the complainant suggested in rebuttal, that comment should be held back until authorities made a formal report. It is the job of journalism to hold authority to account, which includes reporting or commenting on excessive force and reporting news in the public interest in a timely manner.

The NNC found no indication that the writer ‘blatantly’ asserted the officers were racist. She raised the questions of bias and systemic racism, using the provocative latitude that is allowed an opinion writer.

Regarding the complainant’s challenge for the writer to “show us that data” indicating Black people are systemically discriminated against by authorities, the NNC has observed there are numerous reports in a wide range of media across a wide number of cities, provinces and states that chronicle systemic racism, and that the existence of the data can be accepted as fact.

The complainant assessed the article as “another unsubstantiated, unfair, and biased indictment of Toronto police and other law enforcement authorities”, and said the opinion writer will influence readers to become negative, biased against law enforcement, brazen and likely to disrespect the law.

In reading the opinion column as a whole, the NNC found strong opinion and provocative questions, but no indication of unsubstantiated fact. The NNC upholds the role of the media as a watchdog over authority that gives it the responsibility to speak out about abuse of power. It also upholds freedom of expression, which allows the exchange of opinion that each is allowed to accept or reject.

The NNC accepted the news organization’s suggestion that the print headline could have had a question mark, but rejected the allegation that a headline on an inside print article was designed to sell more papers.

For the reasons stated, the NNC found no breach of journalistic standards and dismissed the complaint.


2018-21: Singh vs Toronto Sun

April 27 2018 – For immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council has upheld a complaint against the Toronto Sun about inaccuracy.

The complainant, Jaskaran Singh, said an opinion column, published on March 16 2018 in the Toronto Sun under the headline “NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh linked to Sikh rapper who promotes independent homeland”, contained a factual inaccuracy. Specifically, the complainant said that the statement “A Shaheed is an Islamic or Sikh martyr who died fulfilling a religious commandment and is promised a place in paradise” is factually inaccurate.

The complainant noted that Sikhs do not have a concept of heaven in the same way Abrahamic faiths do, and referred to a specific Sikh academic for an explanation of the term. He stated that the opinion writer spoke to a Punjabi and Hindi speaker for a translation of “Shaheed”, but discounted that effort in favour of referring to a professional Sikh educator. There is no indication how the complainant knew of the writer’s inquiries, and the news organization did not respond to that point.

The news media organization responded to the complaint by offering to publish a letter to the editor on the issue. That offer was repeated when the complainant demanded an apology and offered a meeting to explain the problem with the statement in question.

The complainant’s demand and news organization’s offer of a letter to the editor was repeated until the complainant gave a concise statement that “Sikhs DO NOT believe being a Shaheed is a gateway to a place in ‘paradise’…“ This was corroborated by a knowledgeable source sought out by the NNC, who said the statement in the article was factually incorrect in that Sikhs do not have a concept of heaven and that martyrdom is not a route to heaven for Sikhs.

In reading the article as a whole, it described in detail the music and video of a person alleged to be connected with a Canadian political leader. The complaint centered on the sentence describing the meaning of the word “Shaheed”.

In previous decisions, the NNC has supported the widely accepted journalistic standard that columnists have wide latitude to express points of view that are strongly stated, unpopular, and even offensive. However, the facts on which those opinions are based must be accurate. While the NNC defends the latitude of columnists to express opinion as important to freedom of expression and the opportunity to hear diverse points of view, in this case there is a factual error in the sentence in question.

For this reason, we uphold the complaint about accuracy.

The NNC is disappointed that the newspaper failed to respond directly to the complaint about a factual error, and is likewise disappointed that the complainant was not more direct about clearly defining the error. Timely response can educate and build trust among readers, provide helpful opportunity for journalists, and prevent complaints being escalated to the NewsMedia Council.

At the same time, the NNC commends the news organization for offering space for the complainant to express a point of view on the issue, as information can educate the general public and build understanding.


2018-18: Babin-Fenske vs Sudbury Star

April 13, 2018 – For immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council has found a complaint against the Sudbury Star to be resolved to due to corrective action taken by the news media organization.

The complainant, Jennifer Babin-Fenske, said the February 27, 2018 Sudbury Star story, “Sudbury man gets four years for molesting daughter”, contained explicit detail that was unnecessary to the story and disrespectful to the sensitivity of readers. There was no complaint that the details were inaccurate.

The complainant said the message about rape, sexual assault, and trauma could be conveyed without the graphic details, which she compared to pedophile pornography. While she acknowledged that some detail was removed after her complaint to the editor, she felt insufficient changes were made, and stated concern about future similar reporting.

The Sudbury Star responded to the complainant by agreeing that that the story was too explicit, and that it subsequently modified two sentences in the website version.

The editor also explained the effort in such reporting to strike a balance between conveying “the full horror of such crimes” and respecting the sensitivities of readers. In this case, the paper said, it agreed with the complainant that the original story was too explicit.

While recognizing that sexual assault of children and details of such assault is upsetting, the NNC found reporting is appropriate and necessary for two reasons: to uphold the concept of open courts and to meet the public interest in knowing such crimes occur.

Council acknowledged the conflict between the privacy of the accused, victims and family, and the public’s interest in knowing about crime and child abuse. In this case, there was also a request for consideration of the sensitivity of the reading public, including children. Journalistic judgment including common sense, humanity and relevance is required to balance those competing interests.

Council accepted the news outlet’s statement that some degree of detail is necessary to convey the horror of the crime. At the same time, widely accepted standards require journalists to avoid voyeuristic stories about victims of crime, to give consideration to the humanity of those involved and to consider the relevance of details. Council found the amended version of the article met those standards.

The NNC noted, however, that best practice exercises respect for reader sensitivity by posting a warning of graphic content at the top of a story. The Sudbury Star should use such practice in future.

The complainant suggested the editor did not understand why the article was inappropriate, and was concerned that similar instances will happen in future. The NNC found the news organization’s action to amend the wording indicated that it was responsive to public concern and did recognize when a line was crossed. Regarding the concern about future similar articles, the NNC is not able to take action on future events.


2018-20 Graves vs Burlington Gazette

April 3 2018 – For immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council has upheld a complaint about accuracy and errors correction in the Burlington Gazette.

The March 22 2018 article reported on a Halton District School Board meeting, where part of the discussion was about a new administration building.

The complainant, Kim Graves, stated that two statements in the article were untrue.

The first cited inaccuracy was that “The Oakville and Milton trustees didn’t like the distance they would have to drive to get to Board meetings if they continued to be held in Burlington”. No trustees were named in the article but Graves, a trustee from Milton, objected that she did not make that statement.

Graves said the second untrue statement is that trustees “are queasy” about discussing the new administration centre. She said the statement implied all trustees are queasy, and is untrue because she is not queasy about having the discussion.

In its response, The Burlington Gazette said it did not refuse to make a correction, but that it would review the three-hour video of the meeting web cast.

Subsequently, the news outlet published a correction stating that in an “earlier version of this news story we said that Milton trustee Kim Graves had complained about the distance she had to drive to get to school board meetings” and that it was the trustee beside her who made the comment.

That correction also stated “we said ‘… they were a little queasy about having this matter on the table…’. It would have been more correct to say that some were queasy.”

The complainant objected to the first part of the correction as inaccurate. She noted the original article did not name her as making a statement, but did incorrectly imply she made a statement.

Based on the above, Council upheld the complaint about an inaccurate statement. It also upheld the complaint about the correction, because it incorrectly conveyed the original statement and drew unwarranted attention to the complainant. It is worth noting that the original statement implied six trustees were of the same view, but the correction admitted to mis-attributing a comment to just one.

The complainant also raised questions about the news media’s approach to making a correction. While it is reasonable for the journalist to double check the audio video recording, and to ask for a quote on that or another issue, it is also the prerogative of the trustee or any other interviewee to decline to comment. A correction should not be contingent on providing a further quote.

The news outlet defended its request for further quotes, and stated it “wanted to see a statement that was clearer” than the complainant’s earlier comments.

As a general comment, Council noted that tension between the media and institutions is normal and part of the accountability dynamic of a healthy democracy. However, journalistic standards of accuracy, opportunity to respond, attribution, citing reliable sources, and willingness to make prompt and meaningful corrections are essential in a reputable media. Similarly, government and institutions have a role in allowing media access to information, and those in public office must expect a higher degree of scrutiny and less privacy than those individuals in private life.


2018-06 Ako-Adjei vs Burlington Gazette

March 9, 2018 – For immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council has upheld a complaint about inaccuracy in story published by the Burlington Gazette.

The complainant, Kwabe Ako-Adjei, said the December 15 2017 Burlington Gazette article, “Major organizational moves by the city manager seem to be out of focus”, contained inaccurate information.

He cited specific examples including errors in the reporting of a department re-organization and a staff change. He argued the errors could have been avoided with an email to city staff for verification. The complainant emailed the news organization a list of five points it felt were inaccurate and asked for a correction of the article.

The complainant also objected to the manner in which corrections were done, which was to append portions of the complainant’s email, in a different font colour, to the top of the article.

Subsequently, the complainant provided an example of an article that was critical of a city manager and published without giving the staffer opportunity to respond.

The Burlington Gazette responded by contacting NNC staff for clarification about the complaints. Staff stated a response should speak to the method of correction, and the reasons to seek verification of the information or not.

After three weeks with no further response from the news organization, NNC staff issued a warning that a recommendation would go ahead based on the information at hand.

At that point, the news organization responded with information detailing conflicts with municipal officials and expressing the opinion that city hall was trying to ‘shut down’ the Burlington Gazette.

The response also noted the publisher previously met with NNC staff for a discussion on journalistic standards about separating news from opinion in articles.

Finally, the Burlington Gazette suggested the complaint should be set aside until the publisher’s legal conflict with the city is settled.

On reviewing the complaint and related materials, the articles in question, and the news organization’s response, Council upheld the complaint about accuracy.

The complainant, who is a city staff member, provided information that pointed to reporting errors. The publisher acknowledged one error and did not contradict others, nor did he defend his original material.

The complainant invited the publisher to call city hall to verify facts. There is no evidence that the publisher responded to those invitations. In contrast, the publisher stated that the city manager is trying to shut down the news organization.

In reviewing the article in question, the news organization failed to follow generally accepted journalistic practice for making corrections, which is to label the correction, state the correct material, and make clear what material it replaces. Council upheld this portion of the complaint.

Council found repeated instances in the submitted material where news and opinion were not adequately separated. The article in question was labeled both ‘News’ and ‘News Analysis’, which is not helpful in letting the reader know if news or opinion was being presented.

It was also evident that the news organization made liberal use of reported information without seeking verification, with qualifiers such as “according to people who were in the room”, and suppositions such as “appeared to have looked at Tanner in a manner that was uncomfortable to her”. Widely accepted journalistic standards require verification of fact, naming sources of verification when appropriate, and giving those named an opportunity to respond.

In light of the reasons stated, the NNC upholds the complaint.


2018-11 Bedford vs Red Deer Advocate

March 16 2018 – For immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council has dismissed a complaint about inaccuracy in a Red Deer Advocate opinion column that criticized Canada’s green energy initiatives.

The complainant, Evan Bedford, questioned the Red Deer Advocate about a December 5, 2017 syndicated column, “Green energy fairy tale turning into a nightmare for Canada”, asking if it is within journalistic standards to publish a “falsehood” in an opinion column, and whether it is permissible to use a “so-called ‘dog whistle’ tactic” to give implicit messages.

The complainant cited a statement where he said the opinion writer implied that CO2 is not a significant greenhouse gas, with the implication that “since plants breathe CO2 and soft drinks also utilize it, then excess concentrations of it can not be a threat to civilization”. Finally, the complainant asked how the Advocate intends to differentiate between opinion and facts in future. The complainant had detailed these complaints in a letter to the editor, but had not received a response.

The Red Deer Advocate failed to specifically address the lack of response to the complainant’s letter to the editor. It did note that it reserves the right to select letters to the editor for publication according to available space and subject matter, and stated that letters published too long after the original article lose their timeliness.

The news outlet defended the latitude of opinion columns to provoke discussion and comment while reflecting the author’s opinion on the subject, and the controversial nature of topics such as climate change.

Council noted the news outlet’s response did not address the allegation of inaccuracy, instead stating that the topic of a column such as climate change is highly controversial with opposing and supporting views. Council found this to be an inadequate response that left the complainant’s question about inaccuracy unanswered.

Council noted the news media organization failed to answer the complainant’s question whether ‘falsehoods’ can be published in an opinion article. Journalistic standards and ethics depend on the accuracy of reporting facts, and in the case of an opinion article, the facts that an opinion rests on must be accurate.

The complainant argued that the opinion writer implied that because plants use CO2, excess concentrations of it can’t be a threat. A close reading of the article, which uses fantasy imagery in a harsh attack on environmental and conservation efforts, showed the opinion writer described CO2 as “the very substance that plants need to breath” and the substance “that provides the fizz in soda drinks and the bubbles in champagne”. Both are factual statements.

In the same sentence, the article also stated that CO2 “became the world’s most important environmental priority”. The reader may interpret the writer’s statement as irony, as confirming, or as denying the role of CO2 in climate change. However, observing the trend of climate control agreements and environmental efforts, this can be understood as a true statement. For this reason, we recommend dismissing the complaint.

Reading the article as a whole, it uses satirical language to condemn attacks on the fossil fuel industry, and compares Canada’s emissions to emission trends internationally. The reader may interpret the comments as downplaying the role of CO2 in climate change, or as defense of the efforts and contribution of Canada’s oil and gas industry. Expressing a viewpoint that challenges or even opposes popular points of view is within the role of an opinion writer and acceptable journalistic practice. We suggest that given this reading, there is no breach of journalistic standards for opinion writing.

The NNC has found it is within a news organization’s mandate to offer opinion articles and letters to the editor that express a diversity of views. However, best practice is to identify the affiliation of opinion writers, and in this case, the biography line should have made clear the writer’s background as an executive in the oil and gas industry.

The second part of the complaint focused on ‘dog whistles’, with a subsequent request to know what the paper will do to insure there are no falsehoods in future articles. The NNC deals with specific, unresolved, complaints about accuracy or journalistic standards and ethics, and cannot comment on hypothetical or future situations. However, the paper could usefully have provided information that at least acknowledged the complainant’s questions.

Similarly, Council noted that courtesy and good customer relations can help build trust in the media, and in that vein letters to the editor should be acknowledged in some form.


2018-14 Yang vs Vancouver Sun

March 6, 2018 – For immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council has dismissed a complaint about bias and error in a Vancouver Sun article about a temporary modular housing project.

The complainant, Jack Yang, said the February 11 2018 Vancouver Sun article, “Vancouver unveils Marpole temporary modular housing”, showed bias, failed to include important information, and contained factual error in mis-stating the distance of temporary modular home from schools.

The complainant said the student spokespersons cited in the article don’t live in area and can’t represent elementary students, and objected that the news media made no attempt to seek the neighbours’ reaction to the project.

In a subsequent email, the complainant took exception to the Sun’s balance in reporting on the Marpole homes issue. He objected to reporting that the Mayor attributed opposition to the project to some in the community and misinformation, saying the information was provided by the city. He also faulted the news outlet for failing to describe the prospective tenants or the alternate sites the neighbours suggested.

The Vancouver Sun acknowledged that the reported distance to the schools was incorrect, and stated that an online correction was made.

The news outlet said the article included acknowledgement from the mayor about local neighborhood concerns. However, it noted the focus of the story was on the opportunity to tour the modular homes, which are part of a larger plan to address the city’s affordable housing crisis.

Referring to the student spokespersons, the paper denied any factual error and re-affirmed they are from the high school as stated.

Regarding the complaint that the news media failed to describe the home’s tenants, the Sun responded that tenants are yet to move in. It said that when they do move in, the Sun will report on the true mix of tenants, the services in place to support them, and neighborhood reaction.

It also noted that previous stories have focused on the conflict between those who support and oppose the location of the temporary modular housing and the potential mix of tenants, and cited two relevant articles.

Reviewing the materials presented, the error in stating the distance to the schools was corrected in a timely manner and appropriate fashion.

Council found no evidence in the article about where the students live, nor that they do not attend the school in question. It also found no allegation that the students claimed to represent elementary students. On that basis, Council dismissed this portion of the complaint.

Regarding the complaint that the mayor or city misinformed citizens, the NNC found the specific nature and source of information or misinformation was not addressed in the article or complaint.

The Sun stated the article was intended to give readers a ‘tour’ of the newly-opened temporary modular housing project, and indicated that other stories it has published covered the controversy around the homes. It is within the news media’s editorial latitude to decide how to cover a story. Writing a story describing a newsworthy municipal facility is well within journalistic standards.

Council found it is not obligatory to cover all aspects of an ongoing story in each article, and in this case the news media’s statement that it intends to do follow up stories on tenants, services, and residents’ reaction indicates that part of the controversy will not be left out.

In light of the above, Council found no grounds for the allegation of bias or failure to include important information, and no breach of journalistic standards, and dismissed the complaint.


2018-07 – Stephen Greig vs Globe and Mail

The National NewsMedia Council has dismissed with reservation a complaint by Stephen Greig about a January 10, 2018 Globe and Mail article, “Probe at Toronto performing-arts school raises questions for theatre community.”

Mr. Greig, writing on behalf of the Board of Directors for Randolph College of the Performing Arts, said the article was biased and misleading, and that it contained serious errors and omissions.

The complainant argued the Executive Director of the College is known as Ms. Brett Randolph and cited print material to support that name and spelling, while the Globe and Mail referred to her as Ms. Randolph and pointed to letterhead correspondence related to the events of the story and distributed the day before the story was published. The source used by the paper is closest in time to the reported event, reportedly on College letterhead and signed “Lauren Randolph”. In the absence of an objection by Ms. Randolph herself, there is no evidence of error in the name that appeared in the article. In light of the above, and in view of previous decisions that journalists have the prerogative to select their sources, Council dismissed this portion of the complaint.

The complainant objected to a statement in the article that the executive director declined to be interviewed, saying the reporter asked the executive director to reply by phone or email. Looking at the answers to the emailed questions, the answers are in the third person. The complainant and paper differed on the number of attempts to reach the executive director for an interview. Information around those attempts was not detailed, but it was the executive director’s prerogative to decline an interview, and the College’s prerogative to provide answers through the spokesperson of its choice.

Both parties agreed an interview between the executive director and the paper was conducted a month before the investigation findings were released. There is no indication that interview was on the same topic, nonetheless the Globe and Mail has offered a clarification that “Ms. Randolph declined a request for an interview this week”. The NNC dismissed this portion of the complaint, with the reservation that the paper make the clarification suggested about the interview timing.

The complainant stated that the article forged an editorial link to a wider story about misconduct in the industry by referring to the College and the theatre community, and alleged that link exemplified deliberate bias around the newspaper’s reporting and events related to sexual harassment. The complaint also stated the article ‘recklessly’ linked Ms. Lester, wife of accused director of the Soulpepper Theatre Company, with Ms. Randolph, even though Mr. Randolph had resigned prior to wider media coverage, and Ms. Randolph was not involved in complaints about harassment.

The Globe responded by stating the article was about sexual harassment in the theatre community and appeared in the context of the #MeToo movement. Randolph College made a distinction about its status as a school and not-for-profit, but to the general reader the instructors and students are broadly
considered part of the theatre community, as described on the College’s own website. The reference to ‘the theatre community’ can reasonably be read as a transition sentence.

Council found the issue of sexual misconduct and power balance is a current event of wide public interest, and found no grounds for the allegation that the story was biased toward Globe-sponsored public events on the issue. Council dismissed this portion of the complaint.

Council further found it is reasonable for an article about sexual harassment and positions of power to examine leadership positions, including relationships among staff. The Globe and Mail noted Ms. Randolph declined to be interviewed, and, as such, the article relies on quotes from a board member. There was no allegation of inaccuracy in those quotes. For this reason, Council dismissed this portion of the complaint, with the reservation that the paper could have been specific in stating Ms. Randolph did not handle complaints about staff.

The complainant objected to the paper’s failure to state that the independent investigator was appointed by the College, a distinction it said the Globe has made in other cases. The paper responded by pointing out that the findings of the investigation, not its process, were the focus of the investigation. Council found a general reader may assume the College appointed the investigator, and in any case there is no indication it was ordered by a body other than the College. In light of the above, Council dismissed this portion of the complaint.

The complainant argued that reporting the Randolphs were married “but the school said they have been separated for 2 ½ years” implied to readers that the statement may or may not be true. The paper responded that the reader would recognize the statement as indicating the College was the source of information. Accuracy around the separation of Mr. and M. Randolphs was not in question. Standard journalistic practice would accept the College as an appropriate source to confirm information, particularly if Ms. Randolph declined to be interviewed in a reasonable timeframe. Council found the journalist did not err in using the method of verification available, and dismissed this portion of the complaint.

The complainant also said the paper falsely claimed that interviews were refused, and objected to the journalist’s choice of questions. Council found no evidence to indicate how many times the journalist attempted to reach Ms. Randolph, and noted it is the journalist’s prerogative to ask the questions s/he believes to be relevant to the story while it is the interviewee’s prerogative to answer those questions or to decline. In journalism, the interviewee can offer information but does not direct the questions. In light of the above, this portion of the complaint is dismissed.

Finally, the complainant said an alumnus reported speaking to a Globe reporter who said she had spoken with the artistic director, who did not wish to be quoted. The complainant said the interview with the artistic director did not happen, and cited the case as a “lie” intended to mislead a person who is not familiar with the media. The paper responded that the complainant was misinformed, and that a tape and transcript of the interview varied from the complainant’s version. This exchange occurred nine days after the article appeared. In keeping with the NNC mandate to consider complaints about published articles, we recommend this portion of the complaint be declined.

The complainant’s timeline shows four attempts to reach the artistic director, with the College offering to speak three days later for an interview four days after the request was made. This exchange occurred eight days after the article appeared. We recommend this portion of the complaint be declined.

Council found that the article in question presented a newsworthy situation important to the existing debate over the ability to speak out about sexual harassment in cases of imbalance of positions of influence. It also presented the point of view of actors and steps being taken to address harassment in the theatre community. In the context of this story, it was reasonable to point out similarities in the power structures at two centres where harassment was alleged.

While Council understands that sensitivities are heightened in cases of accusation and reputation, it is concerned about the use of language and accusations leveled at the news organization by the complainant. It found no evidence to support the allegations of ‘malicious’ or ‘reckless’ reporting and is concerned with the use of strong language in making such damaging claims.


2017-87: Michael Olsen vs Ottawa Citizen

February 14, 2018 – for immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council has dismissed with reservation a complaint about errors in fact in an Ottawa Citizen article, “An Inconvenient Ottawa? What will climate change actually mean for the nation’s capital?”.

The complainant, Michael Olsen, stated the November 20 2017 article contains errors in fact and omitted important context.

Noting the statement that “More Canadians will die in a hotter climate”, the complainant said the overall number of deaths will decrease, as more hot weather deaths will be offset by fewer cold weather deaths. He said the article did not mention a May 2015 study in the medical journal The Lancet that indicated deaths from cold outnumber deaths from heat. He alleged the journalist cited no data to support the statement that more will die in a hotter climate, and criticized the inclusion of four national and international stories about heat wave deaths while ignoring stories about cold-related deaths.

The complainant said the article’s statements on future snowfall predictions did not define the word “major” in connection with a 50 cm snowfall in Columbus, Ohio. He referenced an earlier Ottawa Citizen article, co-written by the same journalist that used the term “major” to describe a snowfall of 16 cm in Ottawa on December 29, 2015.

The complainant also noted the article’s statement, in respect to the city of Columbus, that “a typical July day reaches 30C. No one in Canada today has summers like that.” He said the statement was inaccurate and cited temperatures in the Okanagan Valley BC that are regularly in that range.

The Ottawa Citizen defended the article as a good-faith effort to illuminate a large and important issue for readers. It said the reporting was “not meant to imply that an excessively cooling climate would not be a risk, but rather to explain the risk of the rising temperatures”, and named the sources used for the article.

Responding to the complaint about numbers of cold weather deaths compared to hot weather deaths, the paper said stating the detrimental effects of a warming climate did not suggest a dramatically cooling climate would not also be a source of danger.

The paper challenged the complainant’s selection of Osoyoos area as an example of Canadian July weather, and stated that as an acknowledged micro-climate, that exception did not substantially undermine the point made by the article.

Regarding the complaint about snowfall amounts, the paper admitted the definition of a large snowfall is subjective, but said the article’s point about Columbus, Ohio, was a broad one: Ottawa’s future temperature will be similar to that of Columbus, and less snowy than Ottawa today. It said the specific points about Osoyoos’ temperature and Columbus snow falls may merit a clarification but did not take away from the substance of the article as a whole, nor the larger points it makes.

The Council found the article is an explanatory piece that addresses an important topic. It was prefaced with the statement that it was “admittedly, just one vision of the future and of climate change”, and included descriptions of forestry, agriculture, water quality, and bird life, all aimed for the general reader.

The complaint about total deaths due to weather was, in Council’s view, based on a close scientific reading of the article as opposed to a broad reading from a general interest point of view. The complaint was dismissed because, for a general reader, the discussion of heat-related deaths was germane to the focus of the story. The sentence in question was preceded by the statement “Most obviously, extra heat is bad for our health”, which indicated that the statement “More Canadians will die in a hotter climate” related to increasing heat, and not to a comparison between heat- and cold-related deaths, which were not addressed by the article.

The complaint about snowfall predictions was dismissed on the basis that a comparison was intended to convey that Ottawa’s climate will become more like that of Columbus, where snowfall is less in volume. It is reasonable to expect, when making comparisons, a general understanding that exceptional climate and weather events do happen. However, Council’s reservation in this case was that the relative term ‘major’ should be defined.

Similarly, the discussion about hotter temperatures can be read to refer to Canada in general. As noted, Okanagan area is an exception, and as such does not undermine the general principle. The complaint was dismissed with the reservation because the exception should have been noted, or the statement should have been less absolute.

Council found an offer to the complainant by the newspaper to write a rebuttal, or a letter to the editor in response may have satisfied the complainant and precluded the Council complaint – and would be a good practice for all members.

Regarding the complaint about whether and when the Citizen saw The Lancet study, the NNC found in other cases involving research for explanatory articles that journalists have the prerogative to use the sources of their choice.


2017-88 Halfyard vs Brandon Sun

For immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council has mediated and dismissed a complaint about inaccuracy in an article in the Brandon Sun.

Complainant Meghan Halfyard said the December 12, 2017 article, “Pedestrian assaults driver who hit him”, was inaccurate in the description of the interaction and requested a correction or retraction.

The article was a four-paragraph account of an interchange between a motorist and pedestrian. The complainant stated she was not consulted about the story being published, nor contacted by the paper to confirm facts. She contacted the paper by email but declined to speak with a reporter.

The Brandon Sun said the information came from a Brandon Police Service news release, with names of those involved withheld. Without a person willing to speak on the record, the paper said there was no reason to challenge the official news release.

It is standard journalistic practice to use police media releases as news briefs. The police are generally considered to be a reliable source, and a paper has the discretion to decide which items are newsworthy. This article was of interest because the roles of protagonist and victim were somewhat different from the norm.

While the complainant stated the article is inaccurate, the issue centres on the matter of sources. Credible journalism relies on the widely accepted journalistic standard that sources can be verified.

The police media release provided the journalist opportunity to contact an officer for further information if needed. The complainant sent the paper an email, but declined the paper’s offer to talk about it or verify information.

As a remedy, the paper suggested the complainant could go to the police to discuss the alleged inaccuracy, and committed to follow up when the case goes to court. These are reasonable remedies in this situation.

Police reports are public information. The public good in being informed about police interaction with the public, such as arrests and charges, takes precedence over the right to privacy of individuals. In this case, the police and newspaper exercised discretion and respect for individual privacy by withholding names, which avoided issues around privacy or reporting on sensitive issues.

In consideration of the above factors, there is no breach of journalistic standards or ethics and no basis for the complaint.


2017-82: Korski vs Canadaland

December 20 2017 – for immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council has considered and dismissed a complaint claiming conflict of interest related to a September 2016 Canadaland podcast.

The complainant, Tom Korski, is a managing editor with subscription-based Blacklock’s Reporter. He stated that the September 26 2016 Canadaland podcast, “Paywall ‘Blackmail’”, concealed a conflict of interest. NNC considers the podcast to be a publication of the member news media organization. The date of the podcast was far outside the normal timeframe for considering a complaint. However, because related information was discovered only in November 2017, an exception was made.

The podcast consisted of a discussion between host Jesse Brown and Prof. Michael Geist of the University of Ottawa about a federal court copyright case that was of public interest.

The complainant argued that the guest was identified as “a law professor and expert in internet and e-commerce law”. But according to an FOI request sought by the complainant and released on November 15 2017, Geist had sent an email to the University Library on November 10 2015, suggesting it cancel a contract with Blacklock’s.

In their correspondence of November 2017 the complainant suggested to the Canadaland host that the e-mail Geist had sent was proof that Geist “had surreptitiously organized a boycott of their family business a year prior to the podcast, then posed as a dispassionate legal expert in criticizing the company”. The complainant noted his company was not invited to take part in the discussion of copyright litigation, and said that at one point the program host referred to its copyright enforcement as “bat-shit crazy.”

The news media organization said the intent of the podcast was to provide an analysis of a public issue by discussing what had already been reported, similar to a segment on talk radio. In keeping with that format, the news organization felt no obligation to invite either side to participate. It denied the alleged use of language and said it called the legal dispute itself “a bat-shit case”.

The news organization argued that the federal court ruling to dismiss, which was delivered in November 2016, indicated that the host’s critique of the case was not without merit. It also argued that the advice to an employer to cancel a subscription to a business that may undermine principles important to the employer does not amount to a boycott. In any case, the news media organization said it had no reason to know about the email and had nothing to conceal. It offered the complainant opportunity to respond upon hearing of the complaint following the podcast. That offer was declined.

In dismissing the complaint the NNC noted the complainant’s copy of Prof. Geist’s email indicated it was addressed to one person, that no evidence of a wider boycott was offered, and that the podcast contained no reference to a boycott.

The NNC accepted the news organization’s view that Prof. Geist’s letter to the librarian was consistent with the critique he offered on the podcast, and saw no evidence to support the allegation of a personal grudge. However, the NNC noted that best journalistic practice is to state the bias of an opinion writer or guest up front, and recommended that practice be employed going forward.
In dismissing the complaint, the NNC considered that conflict of interest can mean a situation in which the concerns or aims of two different parties are incompatible. Such a difference in points of view is part of healthy analysis and debate.

Conflict of interest also means a situation in which a person is in a position to derive personal benefit from actions or decisions made in their official capacity. In dismissing this complaint, the NNC found no particular evidence of personal benefit to the podcast guest.

The NNC accepted the view that the email in question was advice to an employer and did not amount to an organized boycott. Knowing of the email or opinion would not likely have changed a listener’s perception of the guest. The complainant’s argument that it was not invited to the podcast to take part in discussion of the issue touches on the news media organization’s prerogative to use the sources of its choice. In dismissing this portion of the complaint, the NNC upheld that prerogative, and accepted the view that participation from commentators rather than both parties is standard in an analysis piece.

The NNC noted that the news media organization, on receiving a complaint from Blacklock’s Reporter following the podcast, offered an opportunity to respond. This open response to criticism is to be lauded, and in any case is a remedy the NNC would recommend had there been a breach of journalistic standards.


2017-83: Minifie vs Gravelbourg Tribune

For immediate release

The NNC has mediated a complaint about accuracy in an editorial in the November 13 2017 Gravelbourg Tribune.

Complainant Ward Minifie is a municipal staff member who read the column and understood “everyone” in the paragraph in question to be municipal staff.

That assumption may have flowed from the previous paragraph, which referred to the mayor phoning the CAO. Under that misapprehension, it’s understandable the complainant was upset with what he perceived to be incorrect information.

According to both the complainant and the editor, attempts to discuss concerns about the column were not successful, for whatever reason.

After three requests from the NNC, the editor clarified that “everyone” meant councillors, not municipal staff. That meaning was implicit but not specifically stated in the column.

The NNC upholds the wide latitude of editorial and opinion writers to express points of view that may not be shared by all, and recognizes journalistic standards that require opinions to be based on fact. Reviewing the material available, and with the explanation from the writer, it appears though while there was lack of clarity in the reference to “everyone”, there is no error in fact and it does not appear to amount to a lie to readers.

The NNC upholds the news media’s prerogative to be critical of government. The article in question is strongly critical, but does not breach journalistic standards in that regard.

The NNC declined to comment on previous columns or attitudes expressed by the editor about municipal council. The NNC noted, however, that earlier clarification of the word “everyone”—either through more careful writing or in subsequent conversation with the complainant—could have avoided a complaint to the NNC.


2017-74 Keeney vs Ottawa Citizen

A complaint about insensitive use of a photo has been resolved following mediation by the National NewsMedia Council of Canada.

Complainant Helen Keeney said she was shocked to see her daughter’s picture and a picture of a covered body on a stretcher, identified in the caption as her daughter’s body following her murder in October 2004. The complainant said the photos were disrespectful and brought sad memories to the family.

The photos and information were part of a story about a man convicted of killing a second victim some years after the death of the complainant’s daughter. The complainant argued the story “went into too much detail” about the killing, including specific details she was not told at the time of the 2004 crime against her daughter.

The photos were not violent or graphic in detail.

The newspaper spoke with the complainant to express sorrow for the upsetting memories invoked by the coverage. The paper explained to her that distress to the family was not intended, but that it was necessary to report the details in question because the same man who killed the complainant’s daughter was convicted of killing a man under similar circumstances.

The newspaper stated sympathy with the complainant and her family, but said there is compelling public interest in re-examining the case in light of the additional conviction. It said the story raised important questions about sentencing guidelines, individual judges’ discretion in sentencing and Canada’s parole and early release systems.

The complainant stated the hurt evoked by publishing the article was done, and admitted that no action by the paper would remedy that. She did ask that in future more regard is given to sensitivity toward family of victims when considering the public right to information.

The NNC considers this complaint to be resolved and the file to be closed.


2017-75 Steen Petersen vs Toronto Star

November 22, 2017 – For immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council has mediated a complaint from Steen Petersen about mistaken attribution of a letter to the editor.

The complainant stated he wrote a letter to the editor recommending against the practice of tipping, but his name ended up under a different letter that presented a different point. The attribution error was published online but not in the paper’s print edition.

He complained to the paper about the error but got no response.

After the NNC intervened, the paper apologized for the delay in response and reported that it investigated the incident. It found the complainant’s letter to the editor was dropped from the print edition at the last minute due to space limitation, but that his name remained on file by mistake.
As a corrective action, the paper published the complainant’s name and letter to the editor online, and appended a notice of correction.

The NNC considers that corrective action on this complaint has been taken.


2017-60: Gosselin vs Toronto Star

August 24, 2017

The National NewsMedia Council mediated and dismissed a complaint about the editorial direction of the Toronto Star.

Philippe Gosselin expressed discontent with the editorial opinion of the Toronto Star and argued for a centrist view. However, there is no requirement for the Star or any paper to take direction on its social or political viewpoint.

The NNC mandate is to deal with specific complaints about accuracy and journalistic standards related to the gathering and publishing of news stories in print and digital news media. The Council represents the public and the media in matters concerning the democratic rights of freedom of speech and freedom of the media, including editorial freedom.

The NNC recognizes that news media in Canada have historically had the prerogative to advocate from a liberal or conservative perspective if they wish, and that opinion and editorial writers are allowed to use strong language and express unpopular views. Doing so is not a breach of journalistic standards, and is not grounds for a complaint to the NNC.

The NNC does not demand retraction of opinion articles, as that would interfere with the news media organization’s editorial prerogative and be contrary to the NNC’s position in support of media freedom. It is not the business of the NNC to investigate competing science on issues of gender or sociology, but it is within the scope of journalists to report and opinion writers to reflect on studies and reaction to them.

Thoughts regarding the impact of changes to the editorial staff are not within the mandate of the NNC. Those are business and management decisions that rightly rest in the hands of the paper.


2017-70: Dove vs Montreal Gazette

October 18 2017 – for immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council has mediated a complaint about accuracy in a September 9, 2017, article in the Montreal Gazette.

Aaron Dove complained that the article, “Health and safety of Indigenous women still not taken seriously”, made a statement in reference to an RCMP report that was not supported by the report itself.

The complainant said the article’s statement that Indigenous women had gone missing “without police bothering to investigate thoroughly” was a “blatant misrepresentation” of facts in the report. To support his complaint he cited the report’s statistics that 956 of 1181 cases were solved.

In response to the NNC’s involvement, the news media organization investigated and found that the complainant’s concerns were “completely warranted” and that the sentence in question was incorrect.

The paper acknowledged the columnist’s intended meaning was not what she said, and issued a correction in print and online. The complaint was resolved due to corrective action taken by the newspaper.


2017-59: Selby vs MSN

September 1, 2017

The National NewsMedia Council mediated and dismissed a complaint about anti-Israel bias in an MSN time-line article compiled by two journalists from Associated Press.

Jeffrey Selby filed a complaint about the article’s observation that “Palestinians say it stems from anger at decades of Israeli rule in territories they claim for a state.” He stated that the observation was not relevant and that the article displayed anti-Israel bias.

Reading it in context, the statement is an observation that is warranted in accord with journalistic standards of presenting both sides of a controversial issue. A close reading of the article as a whole indicates no support for the complaint of attack on Israel, bias or anti-Semitic reporting. The article is a lengthy compilation of reaction from a variety of sources as a newsworthy and widely-reported event unfolded. It reported on reaction from a number of world leaders, including Israel’s president, and quoted his note of condolence, which labeled the terrorism and spoke of the need to “stand united” against those who use violence to stifle freedom and destroy the lives of others. That reaction was reported in a manner consistent with reporting of statements from other leaders.

There is no evidence to support the complainant’s view that the article became “a Palestinian issue”. While the article stated that Israel is coping with attacks and stated the reported impetus for those attacks, there was no factual error or editorial comment in that news reporting. Some readers may be particularly sensitive to issues regarding Israel, Palestine, Lebanon or Germany but taken as a whole, references and quotes in this article can be reasonably read as accurate, transparent, and relevant to the events of the day.

The Canadian Press is distributor of AP material in Canada. Both CP and MSN are National NewsMedia Council members and were therefore notified about the complaint.

After a careful review of the complaint and the article in question, the NNC found no breach of journalistic standards or ethics. If grounds for a complaint had been found, the news media organizations would have been requested to respond and remedy the identified issues.


2017-73 Sydney vs Toronto Star

October 18, 2017 – for immediate release

A complaint about insensitive language in the Toronto Star has been resolved due to corrective action taken by the news media organization.

The National NewsMedia Council mediated a complaint from Sean Sydney that a Toronto Star columnist used the term “transgenders” to describe transgender individuals. The reference was in a September 5 2017 column by Rosie DiManno ,“Our statue grievances show we’re getting out of control”, in a sentence that otherwise expressed support for rights of transgender individuals.

The complainant contacted the public editor and the columnist, but reported that after a brief correction the term returned to the original wording. A question about whether columnists are exempt from the Star’s style guide was not answered.

After the NNC was contacted, the paper reported the online article was edited to remove the word “transgenders” and replaced it with “transgender people.”

The paper said the edit followed conversations with senior editors who stated that Star columnists are generally bound by the Star’s style rules, and with the head of the style committee who confirmed that the paper’s style is to use transgender as an adjective, not as a noun.

The paper noted that style is in line with CP (the Canadian Press), the GLAAD Media Guide and other sources.

As a result of various newsroom discussions regarding this column, a further note was added to the Star’s style guide to clarify that “transgender is an adjective; do not say ‘a transgender’ or ‘transgenders’.”

The NNC noted the discussion about the complaint had a positive result in providing the Star opportunity to clarify its style guide, and that the complainant appreciated the opportunity to experience the paper’s willingness to listen.


2017-62: Peterdy vs Toronto Sun

The National NewsMedia Council mediated and dismissed a complaint about provocative language in a Toronto Sun column.

Mike Peterdy filed a complaint about the use of the word “scumbags” in reference to three police officers charged with assault in an August 10 2017 Toronto Sun column, “Toronto’s finest? Hardly,” by Michele Mandel.

The NNC upholds the wide latitude of editorial and opinion writers to state strong views that may not be shared by all members of the public. For that reason, the Council does not generally consider complaints about opinion articles or letters, but may do so in the case of errors of fact, or in cases where language becomes hateful or unnecessarily hurtful. In this case, there is no allegation of factual error.

As an opinion writer, the columnist has the latitude to use strong language of her choice. It is within the scope of an opinion writer to criticize. In this case, the term ‘scumbags’, although controversial and provocative, is a term used in Mandel’s column. Moreover, the fact that there is a reference that indicates ‘Mandel – pg.6’ makes it clear that this is a term used in a column, not a straight news report.

The reader may disagree with the opinion or viewpoint presented, but the NNC is not in the business of arbitrating points of view. The NNC finds there has been no breach of journalistic standards and no grounds for a complaint.


2017-50: Dudley Cordell vs Toronto Star

June 28, 2017 – For immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council has dismissed a complaint from Dudley Cordell alleging that an opinion column in the Toronto Star promoted vigilante behaviour.

The complainant quoted the June 2 2017 statement by columnist Rosie DiManno that Karla Homolka “should be hounded for the rest of her miserable life”, and argued that the tone, combined with details provided by the media about whereabouts of Homolka and her family, puts her in danger. He stated that the columnist crossed a threshold and should be reprimanded.

The news media organization responded by citing the wide latitude of opinion writers to express strong points of view. It detailed the columnist’s extensive background with the subject matter and the role of the sex offender registry. It said a reasonable interpretation of the statement in question, which presented the word ‘should’ in italics, is that Homolka should not be allowed to escape her past, and that her whereabouts should be public knowledge for the sake of public safety.

The paper also addressed the complainant’s statement that it “does not, in my experience, respond to complaints”, saying it has responded “at least once I the past” and noting that many of the emails submitted are not identified with a name.


2017-49: Ryan Campbell vs Vancouver Sun

June 30, 2017 – For immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council has dismissed a complaint from Ryan Campbell about inaccuracy and lack of opportunity to respond in an article by the Vancouver Sun.

The complainant stated that a May 3 2017 article, “Delta Liberal candidate admits to mistakenly signing nomination papers for Green opponent”, attacked BC Green Party candidate Jacquie Miller by including a quote from an NDP spokesperson that she was a last-minute entry who did not live in the riding.

According to the complainant, the comment was inaccurate and misleading, and the news media organization did not seek Miller’s comment before publication. He said the candidate’s contact information was available on the party website, and accused the news media organization of refusing to seek comment or make a correction.

The paper responded by stating that the Green Party was contacted with a request for a comment from the candidate, and that the party chose to respond through its communications director.

The Canadian Association of Journalists’ Ethics Guidelines states that those publicly accused or criticized should have opportunity to respond before publication, and that effort to contact be genuine and reasonable. The NewsMedia Council found the news media organization adhered to that principle by contacting the Green Party to seek comment from the candidate. The party chose to make a spokesperson available, which is its prerogative and widely accepted practice. The paper also sought comment from the major rival parties.

Council agreed with the news media organization’s statement that the focus of the story was on the action of a Liberal candidate, who was one of the signatories to the nomination of a Green Party candidate. It was a newsworthy issue.

The news media organization adhered to accepted journalistic practice by seeking response from the newsmaker and from rival parties. The views of one rival were unflattering to the Green Party candidate. The accuracy of those views, delivered as direct quotes, reflected on the speaker and not on the accuracy of the news media organization.

Other evidence in the story and on the website did not support the complainant’s allegation of inaccuracy. The statement in question could reasonably be considered a detraction to the candidate, but the Green Party was given fair opportunity to respond. The news media is not in a position to force a political party to offer an interview with a candidate if it chooses to use another spokesperson instead.

Council noted the Green Party’s response did not address the issue of the candidate’s current residency, and that it is not Council’s job to research her address.


2017-63 Allan Smith vs St. Catharines Standard

October 11, 2017 – For immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council has dismissed a complaint from Allan Smith about plagiarism and lack of opportunity to respond in regard to an article in the St. Catharines Standard.

The complainant stated that a July 21, 2017 article, “Grimsby code of conduct case example for region, says mayor”, was copied from the Grimsby Lincoln news, and that the journalist did not interview those who were on the Heritage committee to get the other side of the story.

The St. Catharines Standard rejected the allegation that the story was copied. It pointed out that its story included an interview with the mayor that did not appear in the other paper, took a different angle on the disbandment of the town committee, and should properly be viewed in the context of the larger debate over codes of conduct and regional council.

The NNC found the article in question reported on the mayor’s suggestion that the procedure used by the town should be a model for the region’s handling of harassment complaints. The article included quotes and information from a commissioned report as well as quotes from the mayor. By comparison, stories from the other paper focused on the committee dissolution and attempts to resolve the controversy, with quotes from several sources.

The complainant stated he “was told” the journalist “copied” the article, but offered no examples of copied words, phrases or ideas. An accusation of plagiarism cannot be supported in the absence of evidence. All three articles dealt with the same report and controversy, but that does not meet the definition of plagiarism.

Accusation of plagiarism should not be made or dismissed lightly, especially when you can get Grammarly coupon for cheap. In this case, Council found no evidence to support the allegation that the article was copied and no grounds for allegation of plagiarism.

Similarly, there is no evidence to support the complaint that that those involved had no opportunity to respond, or that information was manipulated for political reasons. While it is best practice to state that a source failed to return a request for comment, the NNC accepted the paper’s position that the journalist omitted information about unreturned calls to the committee chair as irrelevant to the main focus of his article.

The article in question quoted the mayor, who had direct interest in the issue, and relied on the commissioned report, a standard practice that included paraphrasing or quoting contents of the report. Journalistic practice does require re-interviewing those queried and cited in the report.

No evidence, beyond the complainant’s unsubstantiated report of background conflicts, was provided to support the allegation that the story was manipulated for political reasons. The allegation is a serious indictment of the journalist’s integrity and cannot rest on an unsupported belief that the complainant knows the truth while the journalist is being manipulated.


2017-61 Douglas Johnson vs Vancouver Sun

September 7, 2017

The National NewsMedia Council dismissed a complaint that the Vancouver Sun’s “Five Things To Know” article breached journalistic standards by presenting news in a juvenile and tasteless manner. In dismissing the complaint, the NNC found that the article shared characteristics with a column, which allows for personal perspectives and humour.

The Vancouver Sun’s “Five things To Know” website series is a regular news digest that links news items to full stories elsewhere in the publication. The piece in question featured gifs linked to news of a car crash and of an animal bite incident. The complainant found the gifs inappropriate given the subject matter.

The gifs in question represent long-established cartoon characters and music. On a reasonable viewing, they do not exploit trauma to victims. The NNC recognizes that humour is a matter of taste, and what is acceptable to one may be objectionable to another. In this case, the humour was deemed not to exceed generally accepted standards.

Although it is based on news, the digest takes a conversational tone. In that light, the feature is more akin to a column, where there is latitude to incorporate opinion, humour and personal viewpoint.

The “Five things to know” feature can reasonably be viewed as a quick reference that offers a conversational, first person perspective on ‘must read’ news items. Readers who do not appreciate the tone can chose to skip the column without being denied information that appears elsewhere in the paper.

The NNC finds no breach of journalistic standards and no grounds for a complaint.


2017-40 Korski vs National Post

For immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council has dismissed a complaint that the National Post misled readers and took credit for the work of others in a March 30, 2017 article, “Secret briefing says up to $300-per-tonne federal carbon tax by 2050 required to meet climate targets”.

The complainant, Tom Korski, stated that Blacklock’s Reporter published an article on the same topic March 29, 2017. Both articles cited a briefing note obtained through the Access to Information process. The complainant alleged that the National Post misled readers to conclude that its reporter sourced the memo, and that the paper took credit for the work of others.

That complaint was rephrased in a detailed follow-up submission, stating the news media organization misled readers by implying the memo was secret, that it uncovered the memo through its own initiative, and that the story was exclusive.

In an email to the NNC, the complainant included an email that showed the news media organization responded promptly to his complaints, issued on social media, about the story. The editor in charge of the story provided the complainant with a timeline and description of events and stated clearly that the news media organization was working on the story independently of the work done by Blacklock’s. It stated neither he nor the reporter read the Blacklock’s article. The complainant did not challenge or deny that response.

In materials submitted to the NNC, the complainant quoted “The document obtained by the National Post…” from the story and said it left the reader to conclude the paper obtained an exclusive memo.

In a careful review of the materials, Council found the phrase “obtained by the National Post” is part of a sentence followed by a sentence stating that the memo was obtained by the Conservative party on an access to information request. It found the cited phrase taken out of context is not reflective of the meaning of the paragraph and that a reasonable reading of the paragraph as a whole leaves no question about the origin of the information. There was no claim of sole or first ownership of the document.

The Council found no basis for the allegation that the news media organization misled the reader on this point, and no grounds for a complaint.

The complainant stated that the news media organization misled readers by implying the memo was secret. Council’s examination of the materials revealed the complainant’s news site twice referred to the document as secret, and noted the news media organization’s explanation that the document was labelled secret and held that security designation. Neither party offered material to contradict the description.

Council found no basis for the allegation that the news media organization misled the reader on this point, and no grounds for a complaint.

The submission filed by the complainant stated that the news media organization misled readers by stating it uncovered the memo through its own initiative. As noted previously, the article clearly stated that the memo was provided by the Conservative party. Council found no basis for the complainant’s allegation, and no grounds for a complaint.

The complainant also alleged that the news media organization misled readers by stating that its story was exclusive. The news media organization denied that it claimed the story was exclusive or a scoop.

A careful reading of the article found no such statement or claim, and supported the assertion of the news media organization. Council found no basis for the complainant’s allegation and no grounds for a complaint.

The complainant suggested a rewording of the paragraph that cites the source of the memo in question. It is not the NNC’s business to act as editor.

Correspondence from both parties provided an uncontested explanation of the timeline of the story in question. The news media organization stated that while the complainant’s article was published first, its own journalists were not aware of the story until the evening and in any case did not read it while their work was in progress. They stated they were not interested in the story because they had their own sources and had begun working on the article.

On learning about the complaint, the news media organization stated that it reviewed the origin of the ATIP with the reporter, who confirmed the source, that it was the result of their own request, and that it was not the result of an ATIP request filed by Blacklock’s. Council found this to be appropriate procedure in the interests of due diligence.

The news media organization strongly denied what it called an allegation of story theft, and insisted that it reported independently from an ATIP filed independently. It supported that view with information that stated the journalist provided the unique ATIP return letter, which was distinct from the one sent to the complainant’s news organization. Through social media, the Council viewed images of both letters, which have different file numbers.

Taking into consideration the news media organization’s credit to the source of its documents and the due diligence in reviewing the process, the NNC found no basis for the allegation that unauthorized credit was taken for the work of the complainant’s news organization, and no grounds for a complaint.

The complainant noted that scalping news and claiming credit for others’ work is misleading to readers and dishonest in the trade. The news media organization has demonstrated that it took the allegations seriously and has exercised due diligence in investigating the complaint.

In dismissing the complaint, the NNC found no grounds for the complaint and no breach of journalistic standards on the part of the National Post.

Council noted with concern the impact on journalists and news media organizations when complaints are stoked on social media before the issue can be fairly heard. Unauthorized use of another’s work is a serious issue, but so is baseless allegation of the same. The NNC’s intent is to consider complaints in a fair and transparent process. Prolonged social media exchanges circumvent that intent and can be unnecessarily damaging. Best practice would involve restraint and fair play.


2017-52 Louise Yasinchuk vs Timmins Daily Press

July 21, 2017 – for immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council has dismissed a complaint from Louise Yasinchuk about bias, inaccuracy and lack of opportunity to provide response related to a May 12, 2017 article, “Perp avoids jail while victim haunted by assault”, in the Timmins Daily Press.

The complainant identified the accused as her son, and provided background information about a previous acquittal and the relationship between the victim and accused in the current case. The NNC is not in a position to investigate or comment on that background.

The complainant further stated that the reporter failed to accurately describe the nature of the charge, did not ask the accused for his account of events, and objected to quotation marks around the word ‘assault’ in the story headline. She also objected to the reporter’s language in a social media exchange with her.

The news media organization responded by stating that it reported information about the charge as discussed in court. The NNC agreed with the news media that widely accepted journalistic practice in court reporting is to view and rely upon the agreed statement of facts as a legitimate source that provides fair representation for both parties. In covering a plea and sentencing, it is not the job of the media to question the victim or the accused, though those and other questions may be appropriate in a follow up story.

On that basis, the NNC found no breach of journalistic standards regarding bias, accuracy or opportunity to provide response.

However, the news media organization noted corrective action had been taken to remove quotation marks around the word assault in the online version of the story, and to remove the modifier “only” in relation to the sentence imposed, as it could be viewed as editorializing. It also noted that the exchange on social media could have been more tactful and stated that policy has been adjusted accordingly.



2017-48: private individual vs Caledon Enterprise

July 5, 2017 – For immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council has dismissed a complaint from a private individual related to stories in the Caledon Enterprise that he said were causing severe hardship in his professional life.

The news media organization published an online article in 2015 stating charges of sexual offense were issued. Nine months later the paper published a story stating the charges had been withdrawn, and updated the original online story with that information.

The complainant did not dispute the accuracy of the reporting, but requested the stories be deindexed, a process that would leave the stories on the news media organization’s website but make them less searchable on the internet. He stated the ease with which the articles could currently be recalled online prevented him from finding employment and providing for his family. He cited a specific case of a job lost due to the old articles being brought to his employer’s attention.

The news media organization responded by stating that it does not remove content from its website, but does update articles with relevant information. In this case, it reported on the withdrawal of charges and updated earlier articles with a link to the story that charges were withdrawn.  It said its ethics committee considered the deindexing request on two occasions, but declined.

In dismissing the complaint, the Council supported the news media organization’s view that considers web content to be a historical record that is important to preserve. Council also supported the news media organization’s view that removing links to published content diminishes transparency and trust with readers.

Council found there was no breach of accuracy or accepted journalistic practices in the news media organization’s reporting around the articles in question, noting the news media organization followed good practice in both updating the stories and posting notice of the updates.

Council acknowledged the harm done to the complainant, and noted that requests for deindexing are an increasing issue for news media. However, it also recognized the news media organization’s sensitivity about the implications of deindexing, including control over content, transparency, and the potential for precedent.

Recognizing the strong views on either side of the deindexing issue, and in light of increasing numbers of requests from members of the public who feel harmed by the enduring life of online stories about withdrawn charges and acquittals, Council recommended a committee to seek a broad range of the public and news media practitioners’ views, with the goal of developing best practices that will guide decisions on future requests for deindexing.


2016-74: Scott Langille vs New Glasgow News

December 15, 2016 – For immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council has dismissed a complaint from Scott Langille that an article and
opinion piece in the New Glasgow News promoted hatred through biased reporting and misleading
information.

The complainant objected that the media released too much information about a man charged with
damaging a crosswalk, which had been painted in rainbow colours in honour of Culture Days.

He stated the columnist “deliberately twisted” comments to promote “hatred and racism” toward the
suspect. He also raised concern that the suspect would not get a fair trial in the community because of
allegations in the column. He said the paper should remove the columnist and retract the article.

In a follow-up comment, the complainant pointed to Facebook comments to support his view that the
column incited hatred.

The news media organization said that the news article was based on a press release from the police
department and interview with an activist affected by the damage, who is also the paper’s columnist.

It noted the second article was clearly labeled as opinion, and cited the traditional prerogative of
opinion writers to express strong and sometimes unpopular views. It noted the inappropriate comments
were not on its social media, nor did the columnist encourage vigilante action.

The news media organization offered the complainant the option of submitting a letter to the editor,
and spoke in favour of hearing diverse view points.

In considering the complaint, the NewsMedia Council found the news article followed standard
journalistic practices in making use of information from police and comment from community leaders.
The Council found no evidence that information had been manipulated for bias or to incite hatred, and
no breach of journalistic standards.

Council noted the comments from the community activist, who is also the columnist, stated the accused
should have been aware of the consequences of his action, and found balance was provided by other
comments suggesting the incident was an isolated case of bad judgement.

It was noted that the name of the accused was withheld, a practice that is within standard journalistic
practice in situations where the case may not be followed in court, the community is small, or in
deference to the principle of innocent until proven guilty. Council considered the complainant’s concern
about ability to receive a fair trial as well intentioned but largely irrelevant in view of the charges.

In dismissing the complaint about the opinion article, Council found the writer followed accepted
journalistic practices. The strongly-worded viewpoint stated the accused “purposely” destroyed the
symbol, that the action was done “with a vengeance” and that it was a “vicious way of destruction”.

That viewpoint might not be shared by all readers, but Council found no indication that the columnist
incited hatred and found no breach of journalistic standards.

Council noted the news media organizations is not responsible for comments on social media other than
on its own, and supported the offer of a letter to the editor and commitment to hearing differing
viewpoints.


2017-38 various vs Maclean’s

May 26, 2017

The National NewsMedia Council has dismissed four complaints related to a Maclean’s article by Andrew Potter, “How a snowstorm exposed Quebec’s real problem: social malaise”, March 20, 2017.

The article drew on Census Canada figures and anecdotal material to make the claim that Quebec society is dysfunctional and that compared to the rest of the country it is deficient in social capital.

Complainants Patrick Ostiguy, Michel Seymour, France Seguin and Julie Forget pointed out factual errors and described the article as racist and hateful. They said it made unsubstantiated claims and portrayed misunderstanding of the culture. One complainant alleged that the article contained all the characteristics of Quebec-bashing.

Responding to the complaint, the news media organization pointed out that two factual errors were quickly corrected. Those corrections were made in accordance with accepted style, with notice of the correction and the nature of the correction prominently placed.

The news media organization stated that an editorial published after the controversy acknowledged its editing process “fell short” and apologized for shortcomings with the article. It also noted that the columnist “expressed regret” about the tone of the article and generalizations, and provided a link to those statements by the columnist.

The NNC defends the prerogative that gives opinion writers wide latitude to use strong language and to state unpopular views. The Council generally will consider a complaint on an opinion article only in case of factual error or unnecessarily hurtful language.

Noting that principle, the news media organization said that hurtful language is a subjective matter, and pointed to journalism’s job of examining uncomfortable issues. The Council found that while the descriptions portrayed were unflattering, the language did not cross the line into gratuitous or hateful speech.

The Council noted that corrective action by the news media organization was in place by the time complaints were received. It also noted the detailed apology by the columnist as well the editorial and apology from the news media organization, and that there was no further comment from complainants after those remedies were offered.

Area – sensitive reporting  Tags – bias, hate speech, balance


2016-78: Kate Musgrove vs Financial Post

For immediate release
The National NewsMedia Council has dismissed a complaint about unattributed use of material in an
article in the Financial Post.
Complainant Kate Musgrove said the November 23, 2016 Financial Post article, “Black Friday deals 2016:
the best bargains in Canada and where to find them”, contained material “directly copied from original
content written by RedFlagDeals editorial staff” and that the copy was used without permission or
sufficient attribution.
The complainant argued that the links back to RedFlagDeals.ca did not give proper attribution to the
original source, citing six instances where the Financial Post article did not credit RedFlagDeals as the
source. She stated the article gave the misleading impression that the Financial Post curated the
material.
The Financial Post described the article as aggregated content. It stated that the article repeatedly
directed readers back to RedFlagDeals, and noted that a similar aggregation the previous year elicited a
favourable tweet from RedFlagDeals.
The news media organization refuted the assertion that the article claimed the information was
compiled by the Financial Post. It said it did not make use of commentary from RedFlagDeals, and
pointed out that the aggregation sent readers directly to the RedFlagDeals site for more details.
Council found the article in question is largely a list of retail opportunities timed for a prime shopping
season. The article itself was a brief introduction followed by a straightforward list of items grouped by
category, with links for more information and sources. It was described by the news media organization
as the same type of aggregation done by Google and The Huffington Post.
The source of the listed material is identified by means of links at the end of each section to the relevant
websites, including RedFlagDeals, a method that is understood as giving credit to those sources.
In reviewing the article and materials submitted, Council noted the content was selected by the
newsroom, and as such should meet the newsroom’s journalistic standards and ethics.
The article in question carried a ‘Financial Post staff’ byline, which contained links to another article
published by the FP. This article was originally compiled by RedFlagDeals and carried with it the
complainant’s byline. In dismissing the complaint, however, Council noted there is no indication that
the Financial Post claimed to have compiled the lists.
While the links served to credit RedFlagDeals as source of the retail information, future best practice
may be to distinguish clearly between news items and aggregated copy, with byline credit given to third
party contributors.


2016-75: Marvin Ross vs Dundas Star News

The National NewsMedia Council has upheld a complaint about a misleading headline on the Dundas
Star News website.
The complainant, Marvin Ross, stated that an online article carried the headline “Dundas school not
opposing alley sale”, while the school’s principal was quoted in the story as saying “…our school
community does not have a comment on (the) application to sell the laneway.”
The complainant noted the principal was deliberately non-committal about a controversial issue, and
said that by stating the school was ‘not opposing’ the sale, the news media organization removed the
principal’s stated neutrality.
The news media organization stated that the principal’s quote that the school community “does not
have a comment on (the) application to sell the laneway” could be argued to mean the school does not
oppose the sale and does not support it either.
It maintained the web headline is true and supported by facts in the story, and disagreed that it is
misleading or non-objective. The publication described the online headline as a plain statement of fact
that made it clear the school would not be an active participant in discussion of the laneway.
The news media organization noted that most of the public commentary on the issue was opposed to
the sale, and argued it was important to tell the community that the school “was not throwing its weight
behind that effort”.
Journalistic standards, as stated by the CP Style Book, require that “headlines face the same tests of
accuracy and fairness as all other publishable copy”.
The Council found the headline on the online version of the news article clearly stated that the school
does not oppose the sale of the alley. That statement was contradicted by the quote from the school
principal, which stated that the school “does not have a comment” on the application for the property
sale.
The Council found the headline effectively removed the principal’s intended neutrality. Under these
circumstances, the news organization’s headline was misleading and a breach of journalistic standards.
The news media organization argued that because most of the commentary reported was about
opposition to the sale of the laneway, it was important to emphasize that the school was not taking that
side of the debate. Journalistic standards demand fair and balanced reporting, but balance cannot be
achieved by skewing a neutral position.


2016-46 Kary vs Toronto Star

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The National NewsMedia Council has dismissed a complaint about inaccuracy in a Toronto Star opinion piece about Elie Wiesel.

The complainant, Joseph Kary, stated that columnist Rick Salutin was inaccurate in two instances: first, in writing that Wiesel was a denier of the Armenian genocide, and second, that Wiesel’s admirers called him the “high priest of the Holocaust”.

The complainant stated that “Wiesel never denied the Armenian genocide at any time in his life”. He stated that admirers would not describe Wiesel as the “high priest of the Holocaust”, because it stands as a derisive label that supports language used by Holocaust deniers. He challenged the writer to identify an admirer who used the term.

The news media organization responded by noting that opinion writers have wide latitude to express points of view that may not be shared by all readers. It also consulted the opinion writer, who stated that the point was that Wiesel did not discuss the Armenian genocide until
later in his life. He said the word genocide is in quotes because using that term in relation to the Armenian massacres is considered controversial in some circles.

The writer stated that he is aware of the negative use of the phrase “high priest of the Holocaust”, but chose to use the label in order to reclaim the power of a term that had been used “sincerely and gratefully” by admirers before it was applied by Holocaust deniers. He cited a meeting with a Holocaust scholar to support his view.

The NNC recognizes that this article is an opinion piece reflecting on the life and influence of Elie Wiesel, an Auschwitz survivor, author, and Nobel Peace Prize laureate. The NNC held extensive discussions on this complaint, including two separate panel discussions, because the complainant clearly understood the difference between opinion and hard fact.

After considering the extensive written materials submitted by both parties as well as the further oral commentary provided during the hearing, the National NewsMedia Council dismissed the complaint based on the following reasons.

The complainant’s contention is that Elie Wiesel denied the Armenian genocide until later in life, maintained that there is no concrete proof that Wiesel ever denied the Armenian genocide and that the columnist, therefore, made a factual error.

The main evidence the complainant relied on was a conference on the Holocaust that was scheduled to take place in Israel in 1982, where a number of academic papers were to be presented, including several on the Armenian genocide. Wiesel was a cochair of the conference and presumably had participated in putting the program together, including inviting Armenian academics to present on the Armenian genocide. Before the conference could take place, Turkey pressured Israel (including alleged threats to harm Jews living in Turkey) to dis-invite the Armenian academics. Wiesel resigned his position as co-chair of the conference, as did many others, leading to cancellation of the conference. Wiesel was criticized for stepping away from the conference as a form of capitulation to Turkey’s wishes.

The complainant’s view was that this could be legitimately characterized as Wiesel being ‘guilty’ of not speaking up loudly enough for the Armenians, but not as a
denial.

The Toronto Star’s view was that the question of Wiesel’s acknowledgement, or lack thereof, of the Armenian genocide was indisputably a highly debatable point among commentators, and, as such, the columnist’s position is therefore defensible. The columnist further added that as a passionate voice against genocide, Wiesel’s silence on the matter for many decades was tantamount to a denial.

The Toronto Star further argued that the columnist was not writing as an academic, and did not, therefore, have to provide factual evidence of an explicit denial by Wiesel. This defense argued that the columnist had the legitimate latitude to choose to state that there was an implicit act of denial on Wiesel’s part.

The panel agreed with the Toronto Star’s position that opinion columnists are given wide latitude to express their own views and perspectives on controversial matters of public interest, and this particular matter appears to fall in that category.

In dismissing this complaint, however, the panel noted that the question turns on the columnist’s use of the word “deny”. In choosing that term, he strongly implied there had
been an active denial on Wiesel’s part. The panel felt that had the columnist included in his column the perspective that he saw Wieisel’s silence ‘as an act of denial’, as he testified during the hearing, there would have been no room for misinterpretation of his view on the matter.

With regard to the second issue raised by the complainant—that referring to Wiesel as the “high priest of the Holocaust” was a slur—the columnist defended his position by insisting it was a title used by admirers, including other variations such as “high priest of our generation” and “high priest of Auschwitz”.

The panel again agreed with the Toronto Star, as it could be argued that in everyday usage these phrases are quite similar. Moreover, given that the columnist is an opinion writer, and not an academic, he had the latitude to use the phrase.

However, in the original complaint, it was clear the Toronto Star had responded to the complainant. During the panel hearing, a spokesperson for the Star said he thought the issues the complainant was addressing were more appropriate in the form of a guest column or letter to the editor. In dismissing the complaint, the National NewsMedia Council noted that this information might have been more properly conveyed to the complainant at the time, rather than at the hearing.


2016-33: Penna vs Toronto Star

The National NewsMedia Council has dismissed a complaint from Pav Penna that a Toronto Star article on June 4th, 2016, “America’s first ‘climate refugees”, incorrectly claims climate change as the primary contributing cause for the need to relocate Isle de Jean Charles citizens. It also dismissed the complaint that the news media organization failed to take responsibility for corrections to a wire service article.

The complainant provided extensive background and research materials related to sea levels, climate study, and previous New York Times articles. He argued that the NYT article that appeared in the Star does not give enough weight to subsidence, and quoted National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration measurements that show “relative sea level is rising almost 10 millimeters per year in Louisiana partially because the land is also subsiding.”

The complainant also alleged that the New York Times presents “alarmist” stories that support NOAA. The Council declines to comment on that aspect of the complaint.

In its response, the Star pointed out that the article clearly states more than 90 per cent of the island was lost before relocation was contemplated, and relies on a statement from the National Climate Assessment report that rising sea levels make Isle de Jean Charles among the most vulnerable of populations.

The paper also noted that the article is from the Star’s New York Times wire services, and that the Star does not correct wire content without consulting the source. It agrees with the New York Times decision against a correction on the article. In considering the complaint, Council found the article makes clear that past and ongoing rising sea levels are the cause for the relocation of the citizens of Isle de Jean Charles when it states that “Channels cut by loggers and oil companies eroded much of the island, and decades of flood control efforts have kept once free-flowing rivers from replenishing the wetlands’ sediments. Some of the island was swept away by hurricanes.”

In dismissing the complaint, Council notes that journalistic standards require the news media to present balance in reporting, but it also notes that presenting balance in cases such as climate change or vaccinations includes noting that the great majority of science and expertise rests on one side of the issue.

The NNC is a forum for journalism standards and cannot serve as an arena for assessment of or debate on deep science. It is not reasonable for every news article to delve deeply into complex science in order to present both sides of an issue. Journalists and editors have the discretion to cite or rely on sources of their choice.

Journalistic standards related to fairness and balance have been satisfied in the article’s noting of factors such as subsidence and channel cutting. Council finds this is a reasonable balance considering the weight of scientific and expert views.

The complainant states the article supports climate change and rising sea level by reporting that residents describe the land as being “flooded”, “sinking into the sea” and “the rising waters”. Council finds these words and phrases could be understood by a reasonable reader to illustrate the issue of water where there used to be land, whether caused by land sinking or water rising.

Regarding the complaint about accuracy of wire copy, Council finds the news media organization exercised due diligence by consulting with the wire service about the accuracy of statements in the article. It confirmed that, contrary to the complainant’s allegation, there was no statement that climate change is the only reason for changes on Isle de Jean Charles.

Council finds no breach of journalistic practices or standards and therefore dismisses the complaint.


2016-32: Chris Wallace vs Toronto Star

For immediate release
The National NewsMedia Council has dismissed a complaint that a columnist misinformed
readers by suggesting that marijuana purchased from dispensaries is not Black Market product.

Complainant Chris Wallace says that in a June 2, 2016 Toronto Star article, “Both medical and
recreational pot should be acceptable: Cole”, columnist Desmond Cole made statements with
health and public safety implications that should be corrected. In particular, he says the
columnist intimated that marijuana in dispensaries is not a product of the black market. He describes
that suggestion as “misinformed” and in need of correction.

The article by opinion writer Desmond Cole cites the widely-reported police raids on Toronto
marijuana dispensaries as he looks at the government’s role in differentiating between medical
and recreational use of marijuana. He argues for erasing the stigma around marijuana use, and
notes that differentiation of marijuana users has wide-ranging impact on users and society.

The article raises the issue of public health and safety in reference to fears that lack of
dispensaries will drive marijuana users to street dealers. The column does not make definitive
statements about the sources of marijuana sold by dispensaries.

In its response, the paper disagreed that the columnist is intimating the source of dispensary marijuana.
It points out that the writer is not stating fact, but expressing his own view.

In researching the complaint, the NNC found that Health Canada reports 18 authorized licensed
producers supply medical marijuana. The Canadian Association of Medical Cannabis
Dispensaries has certification standards for supply of product, including product quality,
inventory management, and supply accountability.

In dismissing the complaint, the NewsMedia Council notes that public health and safety are the
concerns of both the opinion writer and the complainant. Both the writer and complainant
offer opinion but no evidence about the source of product. The NewsMedia Council finds the
opinion writer did not breach journalistic standards by stating a position on a controversial
issue.


2016-29: Doug Dixon vs Toronto Star

The National NewsMedia Council has dismissed, with reservation, a complaint from Doug Dixon, who
objected to and requested an explanation of the Toronto Star’s crowd estimate in the March 31, 2016
article “Hundreds celebrate legacy of ex-mayor”, describing the Rob Ford memorial service at the
Toronto Congress Centre.

The journalist responded to the complainant’s first inquiry, saying his report of “several hundred”
people was based on his observation during attendance over a two and a half hour period. He said he
spoke with other reporters, whose estimates ranged from 400 to 1,000.

The complainant quoted a crowd estimate from police, who indicated a total attendance of eight to ten
thousand, understood to be over the entire three hours, and said another media organization reported the
crowd at over 3,000 people. The paper said its estimate was for the time that Doug Ford spoke.

In responding to the complaint, the public editor referred to an August, 2009, column, where she said
“Numbers matter. Reporting the size of crowds at public events provides readers with essential context
for understanding the scope of those events and their impact within the community”, though she noted
“the reported number is always open for debate.”

The paper vouched for the journalist’s credibility and record, said he has been fair and accurate in his
coverage of the Ford years, and “has no reason not to report accurately and fairly what he observed –
keeping in mind that no crowd count is an exact science”.

UC Berkeley journalism professor Herbert Jacobs developed a formula in the 1960s for estimating the
numbers in dense, moderate and light crowds. The public editor referenced Doig’s Formula, which
involves learning the area of the event and dividing that by an estimation of the crowd’s density.

Another method involves dividing the area occupied by a crowd into sections, determining an average
number of people in each section, and multiplying by the number of sections occupied.

The paper did not state whether any of these methods was used in arriving at the reported estimate.
In dismissing the complaint with reservations, the NewsMedia Council does not find any basis to state
there is a factual error in the crowd estimate, but it draws attention to the abundance of advice about
caution in making estimates. The Council underlines that caution in cases of reporting on events with
strong potential for controversy, such as those related to the late Toronto mayor.

Council further recognizes that crowd estimates are important. In controversial or political contexts,
they are significant for both supporters and opponents. Even without controversy, perceptions created
by stating a crowd size can influence readers. Council notes that crowd size is an ‘age-old’ problem in
reporting, and media in general should be aware of the need for accuracy in this matter as in any other.

In this case, the paper’s estimate of “several hundred” is open to wide interpretation. The paper admits,
in referencing a 2009 column, that uncertainty over estimates “all adds up to… reason for skepticism
from both reporters and readers of any definitive crowd count.”

There are accepted methods, noted above, for crowd estimates where the size of the space is known,
but even then the crowd may ebb or grow over the duration of an event.

Better journalistic practice is to avoid reporting numbers and numerical estimates unless they can be
verified.


2016-27: Andrew Pak vs Toronto Star

For immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council has dismissed a complaint about offensive language in a May 16, 2016,
Toronto Star column, “Gunning down pregnant mom a new horror on killing street: DiManno”.

Complainant Andrew Pak objected to columnist Rosie DiManno’s use of the word “dick” in reference to
a Toronto police detective, saying he knows the meaning of the slang term but thinks the majority of
readers would not. The complainant says that to the unsuspecting reader, the word is “demeaning”
about police. The complainant feels the paper “dislikes police” and should be more conscious of its
words.

The paper’s public editor responded by saying the Oxford Canadian dictionary defines “dick” as slang for
detective. She said that as a slang term, it is not considered derogatory, nor did the writer intend it to be
demeaning to police. She also referred to the Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang,
noting 19th century English incorporated Romany words, including the word “dik,” meaning “to look, to
see.”

The paper noted that as an opinion writer with wide latitude to express her own views and choose her
own words, the columnist has considerable freedom to express her views in terms that some might find
offensive.

The NewsMedia Council found the column focuses on shooting deaths in a neighbourhood that has
become known for gun violence. In particular, it looks at the shooting of an apparently innocent
pregnant mother and at public response to violent crime. The word “dick” was used to describe a
homicide officer “pleading for information” in the face of general public indifference.

In dismissing the complaint, the NewsMedia Council found use of the somewhat dated slang word is not
a breach of journalistic standards in the bluntly descriptive style of the column. Reading the word as
demeaning is not reasonable given the overall tone of the column.


2016-25: Paul Olsen vs Chronicle-Journal

For immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council has dismissed a complaint from Paul Olsen about a May 4, 2016
article, “Too many little white lies”, in the Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal.

The complainant objected to the article as being racist and an attack on white people. He alleged it
represents a double standard in that a similar article or words about black people and ‘black lies’ would
not be published. The complainant called the headline misleading, as he felt no lies were cited in the
article. He also raised concerns that the story will promote further divisiveness in a city where race
relations are strained.

The paper acknowledged that racism is a prominent concern in the community, and noted it has
published many stories and commentaries exploring the issue from various perspectives. It said the
views of the speaker are debatable, but it is important to put views in the public spotlight for scrutiny.

The event described in the article had been the subject of advance notice and was well attended.
The article is a straight-forward report on a workshop held at a public library, led by a person with
experience working in corrections and mental health. The article reports in quotes and in paraphrase
that the workshop leader stated Canada has a past built on genocidal practices, and that Canada’s
identity as polite and a peacekeeper is used as a tool to cover up an “ugly” true identity. The article also
reports the speaker’s view on society’s responsibility for structures that created problems, and his
workshop goal of challenging perspectives.

The paper said its role is to foster community deliberation on the topic, and provided letters to the
editor that were prompted by the article, with writers both in support of and opposed to the speaker’s
views.

In dismissing the complaint, the NewsMedia Council found the article covers an event of community
interest, held at a public venue. It meets the paper’s goal of presenting perspectives on public issues,
and meets journalistic standards of providing an interchange of information, opinion and interests.

The viewpoint presented may be perceived as discomforting, but there is no evidence the article is
racist, defined in the Canadian Oxford Dictionary as “a belief in the superiority of a particular race, or
antagonism towards other races, especially as a result of prejudice”.

The speaker’s statement that “Canada is built on genocide” may be controversial, but given that similar
findings around the practices and impact of colonialism have been documented by authorities including
the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, it is not an error of fact.

The headline was not misleading, in that the article reported the speaker’s view that Canada’s positive
identity is used to “cover up” a different identity.


2016-24: Kenan Fanni vs Globe and Mail

The National NewsMedia Council has dismissed a complaint from Kenan Fanni, who alleged that a
column by Doug Saunders contained a factual error in stating that by 2020 white children in the
US will be a minority.

The complainant stated that the February 13, 2016 article, “1968, all over again: Young Americans
rally for an anti-system outsider”, relied on “insufficient research or reliance on extremist
sources”. The complainant supplied additional information that he requested the paper to
incorporate, and initially requested a retraction. He later asked for a correction.

The opinion article made the statement in relation to demographic trends, and cited a US
Census news release dated March 3, 2015: “Around the time the 2020 Census is conducted,
more than half of the nation’s children are expected to be part of a minority race or ethnic
group.”

The date and demographic picture in that Census news release matches the date and
demographic picture reported in the article.

In arguing against the article’s statement, the complainant cited a US News story: “According to
the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2014 there were more than 20 million children under 5 years old
living in the U.S., and 50.2 percent of them were minorities”. The complainant used the “under
5” statement to extrapolate from the data and support his view that the Globe and Mail article
is wrong.

The Globe and Mail article did not cite US News as a source, and the “under 5” statement was
not referenced in the Census report.

In dismissing the complaint, the NewsMedia Council found the demographic trend noted in the
Globe and Mail article is based on a reputable source, and is one part of the article’s larger
viewpoint on voter preferences in leaders’ style and priorities. The article uses credited source
material, and there is no error in reported facts.

The NNC notes that the paper recognizes the potential for further debate on the issue and
offered the complainant opportunity to write a letter to the editor.


2016-19: John Lowman vs Vancouver Sun

A complaint about an inadequate correction to an editorial was resolved due to corrective action.

Prof. John Lowman made a complaint about a June 24, 2014, Opinion Editorial in the Vancouver Sun on issues related to prostitution laws and safety of sex workers.

He said the article made an error in fact, and on Feb. 8, 2016, requested a correction.

The original article is outside the NNC time frame for considering a complaint, but the request for a correction is within the time frame.

The paper pointed out that it made a correction, admitted its correction notice was not originally properly appended to the article, and rectified that issue.

The complainant was not satisfied with the correction, which he described as inadequate in pointing out the original error.

The paper said its policy is that corrections do not repeat a reporting error, however reasonable journalistic practice is for a correction to be clear about its relationship to the original.

A suggestion to modify the correction notice to indicate the specific area of correction was accepted as satisfactory to the complainant. At the same time the remedy met both the paper’s policy and the need to point to what aspect of the story has been corrected.

Council noted the paper recognized the complaint about the error, and subsequently that the correction was inadequate and poorly appended. The paper resolved the complaint through corrective action by making a suitable and appropriately published correction.


2016-18b: Andrew Sprague vs Toronto Star

For immediate release

A Toronto Star article about a dog used by a Canadian soldier with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
prompted a number of complaints to the National NewsMedia Council.

Complainant Andrew Sprague said that the article, “Edmonton military base rethinks PTSD service dog
policy”, which appeared on January 28, 2016, inaccurately described the dog as a certified service dog.

He argued the dog is an ‘emotional support’ dog and should be referred to that way, otherwise the
paper contributes to public confusion over dogs that have different levels of training and assessment.
The complainant alleged that by calling it a service dog, the paper implied it is a certified service dog, as
those are the only dogs legally recognized in Alberta, where the story took place.

Subsequently, the complainant took issue with the article’s reference to the precise nature of the donor
foundation regarding its charity status. Also, noting the article included the impact on a receptionist
with severe allergies, he objected to the paper’s revealing personal health information.

The complainant argued the inaccuracies in the article were sufficient to warrant a retraction.

In responding to the complaints, the Star denied calling the dog a certified service dog. It relied on the
owner’s reference to the dog as a service animal, and noted the dog’s accessories as evidence of its
service status. But the paper said it makes sense to add clarification regarding the distinction in law
regarding service dogs, and appended a fulsome clarification to the story, detailing the designation of
the dog’s status under provincial legislation as well as the charitable status of the donor foundation.

The paper argued that the information stated about the receptionist does not reach the standard of
releasing personal health information, and stated that the grounds argued by the complainant, when
viewed against the overall article, do not approach warranting a retraction.

The complainant’s original focus was that the paper identified the dog used by a soldier with PTSD was a
certified service dog. The NNC finds that the paper did not make that statement.

The complainant further argued that calling the animal a service dog rather than an ‘emotional support’
dog implies the dog is a certified service dog. The paper noted the reporter relied on the dog handler’s
use of the term service dog, and on his report that the dog was certified in US. The story also reported
the military’s understanding that the dog does not have provincial certification.

The charitable status of the donor organization does not have material impact on the overall story.
The paper relied on its lawyer’s advice that information related to the receptionist’s allergies does not
unlawfully disclose personal health information.

The complainant, who is a service dog handler and deeply knowledgeable about the issue, stated in
correspondence with the paper a desire to educate on behalf of a group and for the public. At the same
time, the NNC is mindful that news stories must able to use language and terms readily understandable
to the general public.

After reviewing the complaints, article, and documents provided by the complainant, the National
NewsMedia Council dismissed the complaints.

In dismissing the complaint, the NNC found the article did not call the dog a certified service dog. The
argument that the designation is implied because of Alberta regulations is unreasonable. The paper met
the complainant’s concern about precise language and desire to educate the public by posting an
extensive clarification.

The complainant erred in his allegation about the donor organization, and in any event the mis-stated
reference to charity has no bearing on the thrust of the story. Relating a receptionist’s allergic reaction
provided information that is material to the story. Council also noted that retraction is a rare move
reserved for the most egregious of flaws in a story.


2016-18b: Andrew Sprague vs Edmonton Sun

For immediate release

A complaint that the Edmonton Sun incorrectly identified a dog used by a soldier with Post Traumatic
Stress Disorder has been dismissed by the National NewsMedia Council.

Complainant Andrew Sprague argued that in the article “Soldier battling PTSD told his service dog can no
longer accompany him to Edmonton Garrison”, which appeared January 26, 2016, the paper incorrectly
identified the dog as a “certified service dog”, and stated that the correct term in this case is “emotional
support dog”.

The complainant stated there is a legal difference and provided extensive information on certification
and expectations of service dogs. Subsequently, the complainant said the paper inaccurately reported
that the dog was received from a registered charity, and he provided information on the Wounded
Warriors Weekend Foundation and Wounded Warriors.

The paper responded by saying it did not state the dog came from a registered Canadian charity, but
from the Wounded Warriors Weekend Foundation, which is what the group calls itself on Facebook.

Regarding the status of the dog, the paper argued there is no evidence reported to support or deny the
dog’s certification status.

The paper noted that the military was quoted as saying the dog can’t have “the same access as a
certified service dog because they are not certified service dogs” and that the military is trying to
balance the needs of everyone. The military did not raise concerns about the article.

After reviewing the material provided by the complainant and the paper, the NNC noted that the story
stated the dog was a gift from a Foundation, and that the story did not describe the dog as a certified
service dog. Instead, the article referred to it as a service dog, a term that is generally understood by the
public to mean a dog that assists or provides a service function, as distinct from a dog that has the role
of a pet.

Information from the military spokesperson points to the distinction, perhaps not as well known in the
public, between a dog that is certified as a service animal and one that acts in the role without such
training and testing.

The complainant, who described himself as a service dog handler and has deep knowledge of the
subject, is seeking careful wording regarding service and support dogs with reference to their training
and assessment. He argues the distinction is important to the certified service dog community.

A news story, while recognizing changing terminology and frames of reference, must use language and
terms that is readily understandable to the general public.

In dismissing the complaint, the NNC found the allegation that the paper misstated the dog’s
certification status and origin is not supported on close reading of the article. The article meets
journalistic standards of accuracy, fair comment and balance.


2016-17: Ryan Jansen vs Toronto Star

The National NewsMedia Council finds that while the statement that “Black Lives Matter – just not so
much to cops” may be offensive to some, it is within the wide latitude given to columnists.

The Council dismissed a complaint from Ryan Jansen, who objected to the statement by columnist Rosie
DiManno in her column “Police pushback doesn’t move newly political Beyonce” on February 21, 2016.
The column offered comment on controversy involving the Miami police union and a concert boycott.

DiManno described the political gestures of the concert performer, the boycott and similar politically motivated
actions, and quoted the police union president.

The complainant alleged that the columnist provided no data, statistics or studies to support her claim.
He found the column offensive and divisive, and said that publishing it is a “deplorable attempt to
further damage” relationships between minority communities and police.

The Toronto Star noted that the columnist cited facts in relation to her opinion, including a year-long
study by The Guardian into police use of deadly force in the U.S., as well as information from the Florida
State Attorney’s Office. The paper also explained the wide latitude given to columnists to express
opinion, and noted that latitude is supported by press councils and courts.

The complainant remained unsatisfied, arguing that the columnist “cherry-picked” facts to support her
view and did not describe circumstances of the police shootings. He alleged the columnist portrayed all
officers on the actions of a few, and questioned whether that is congruent with the paper’s principles.

Council found the columnist cited shooting statistics, demographic information, and Bureau of Labour
trends. The column looked at shooting death numbers but did not describe the circumstances of the
shootings. Instead, the focus was on police response to political messages from entertainers.
The paper stated the columnist was expressing views on a matter “of significant public interest,
informed by her extensive experience researching and writing”.

The paper denied intent to damage relationships, and noted the columnist’s point that police should
“apologize for their “trigger happy” membership”, which the paper said is an opinion on a matter “of
high public interest to our own community and beyond.”

In dismissing the complaint, the Council noted the columnist cited two sources of data to support her
opinion, was specific about the particular police behaviour she criticized, and offered comment from
police officials to balance her viewpoint.


2016-23: Jeffrey Seidman vs National Post

For immediate release

A complaint that the National Post used a would-be contributor’s article as the basis for an article of its
own was dismissed by the National NewsMedia Council.

Jeffrey Seidman stated that he submitted an article called “The end of tobacco” to the National Post on
February 3, 2016, which described the ill effects of smoking and outlined a graduated form of tobacco
prohibition. The article was an enterprise endeavor in honour of his late father.

He received a rejection notice the next day, but said that on February 13 an article called “Tobacco
activists plan ‘Endgame’” and closely resembling his submission was published. He alleges his article was
used as inspiration, including his exact proposal, one or more of his exact terms, and a number of his
points, all without credit or reference.

The National Post questioned the reporter, comment editor and handling editor to investigate the
allegation. The paper said the reporter filed the story January 20, two weeks before the complainant’s
submission, after a pitch made December 9, based on a conversation in May that led to the story idea.
The paper noted it has emails and records to confirm those dates.

The paper said the comment editor and comment department staff did not share the complainant’s
submission with the reporter, and would not have known the reporter had already filed a story on the
same topic.

Reviewing the complainant’s article and the paper’s story, there is no similarity beyond the general topic
of tobacco use. The complainant’s article focuses on the harmful effects of tobacco use and graduated
prohibition as a solution. The paper’s article focusses on a health professional ‘summit’ on ending
tobacco use and examines the pros and cons of several strategies, with little support cited for
prohibition.

The Council found little similarity between the two articles. The paper’s explanation of timelines is
reasonable and accounts for a coincidence that is understandably upsetting to the complainant.


2016-16: Moher vs London Free Press

A complaint that articles about Syrian immigrants and Muslims will attract “hate-filled”
comments was dismissed by the National NewsMedia Council.

Complainant Charles Moher objected specifically to a February 26, 2016, article “Walk a mile in
her hijab” and an online poll “Do you know anyone who wears the hijab”, saying they are
“fanning the flames” of racism.

The article described a secondary school event where students were offered the chance to
learn about, discuss and try wearing a hijab for a short time within the school.

The paper characterized the article as describing a community-driven effort to promote
understanding and tolerance. It also explained that the online poll is one of several tools the
paper uses to engage with readers.

Council agreed with the paper’s stance that asking readers a question about clothing does not
amount to racism.

The complainant’s concern centred on reaction the story and poll might attract, rather than on
the content of the story itself. Council found there was no stereotyping in the story; instead
women of different backgrounds gave varied and personal views on wearing the hijab.

While the paper admitted need to take care in considering reaction to stories in terms of reader
comments, it defended posting stories as contributing to a forum of discussion. Council
supported the position that selective posting is fraught with ‘grey areas’.

In deciding to dismiss the complaint, Council noted the story was fair, positive, and did not
promote stereotypes. No reasonable reading could interpret the story as inciting hatred.
It also found the poll is a simple yes or no, and is an accepted feature that papers use for
encouraging reader engagement.


2016-21: Suzanna Meyer vs Wallaceburg Courier Press

A complaint about an editorial cartoon has been dismissed by the National NewsMedia Council.

Suzanna Meyer complained about the Donato cartoon published in the Wallaceburg Courier Press on
March 24, 2016, saying that freedom of expression is a right, but sensitivity toward the holy should be
respected.

The cartoon showed two figures, taken to be God and Jesus, making comment on the American political
situation. The cartoon portrayed the Jesus character crying because his US Supreme Court
recommendation was turned down by the Republicans.

When told about the complaint, the managing editor contacted the community papers editor, who
offered to print the complainant’s objection as a letter to the editor.

The complainant agreed to submit a letter to the editor.

In dismissing the complaint, Council noted the paper recognized the complainant’s desire to express her
opinion about the limits of freedom of speech and offered a mutually agreeable venue to do so.


2016-06: Jacob Mendlovic vs. Toronto Star

March 10, 2016 – for immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council upheld a complaint about factual error in a letter to the editor published in the Toronto Star.

Jacob Mendlovic pointed out that a letter to the editor quoted Israeli politician Avigdor Lieberman that “Palestinians should be drowned in the Dead Sea”. The complainant provided a link reporting Lieberman’s quote was Palestinian “prisoners” rather than “Palestinians”.

The complainant noted the Toronto Star should be aware of prejudice and anti-Jewish sentiment, and should edit or correct factual errors in letters.

The Star described the discrepancy as perspective rather than error of fact.

The National NewsMedia Council notes that letters to the editor provide a platform for public expression of diverse opinions, but must not be defamatory. The Star’s standards state that significant errors of fact should be corrected, and the NewsMedia Council believes the error in paraphrasing the quote cited is a significant one that should be acknowledged by the paper.

 


2016-07: Arun Chauhan vs. Toronto Star

The National NewsMedia Council has upheld a complaint about use of an unrelated photograph
to illustrate a story.
Arun Chauhan alleged the Toronto Star maligned the Indian Civil Service examinations by using
a misleading photo to illustrate a story about the extreme level of difficulty of exams required
to join India’s civil service. The photo depicted cheating in an unrelated high school exam
setting. The article itself did not reference cheating in any connection to the civil service exam
process.
The Star said it had no authorized access to a photo illustrating the civil service exam story, and
used another photo “illustratively” with an explanatory caption.
The NewsMedia Council points out that while the photo caption identified the location as a high
school, it did not explain the relationship to the civil service exams. The photo created an
erroneous connection and should not have been used. The NewsMedia Council applauds the
Star for changing the presentation on its web site and Facebook page following the complaint,
but believes a correction in the paper was warranted.


2016-13R: Theule vs Globe and Mail

The National NewsMedia Council has dismissed a complaint about an alleged conflict of interest in a Globe and Mail article.

The complainant, Gerrit Theule, alleges the paper violated conflict of interest. He says an article about a CRTC ruling about Super Bowl ads fails to disclose that CTV, which carried the 2016 Super Bowl, and the Globe and Mail, which carried the opinion piece, are both owned by Bell Media.

The Globe and Mail’s public editor responded by pointing out that the Bell Media share in the Globe and Mail was bought out several months prior.

The NNC reviewed Globe and Mail standards and a business news article provided by the Globe related to the issue.

The NNC recognizes that the Globe and Mail no longer has a financial relationship as a Bell Media property, and as such there is no conflict of interest and no basis for a complaint.


2016-12: James Hein vs. Saskatoon StarPhoenix

The National NewsMedia Council has dismissed a complaint about use of a Facebook photo in a
news story.

James Hein alleges the Saskatoon StarPhoenix violated his copyright in using a photo from his
Facebook account to illustrate the accused driver in a car crash, and that use of the photo
identified him.

The paper responded to the complaint by explaining copyright exemption for fair dealing. It
also apologized for its delay in responding to the complainant and pledged to review its
process. The complainant was not satisfied and believes his rights have been violated.

In dismissing the complaint, the NewsMedia Council noted that the photo was taken from a
Facebook page that was readily searched and accessible to the public. The photo was used
according to Facebook’s stated access policy, and the paper relied on fair dealing provided in
the Copyright Act.

The photo was tightly cropped to the accused’s face, and it is not possible to identify another
person in the photo.

The NewsMedia Council says the story of the car crash and the photo were newsworthy in the
community because of the fatalities and the circumstances. The reporting and use of such a
photo is standard practice.

It is unfortunate that the complainant has suffered negative publicity, but there has been no
breach of journalistic standards or practice.

Article: “My parents lost, we all lost’, family tells court”

Published: December 23, 2015


2016-11 Rex vs Prince George Citizen

February 17, 2016

The National NewsMedia Council has dismissed a complaint about the Prince George Citizen related to reporting on a sexual assault and subsequent handling of the comment section.

Complainant Stephanie Rex stated that the article contained detail that could identify the child and family. She also stated that articles related to First Nations people create opportunity for “racist tirades” and for that reason the comments section should not be open.

The news media organization said it complied with the publication ban, and denied that the details reported were insufficient to reveal the child’s identity to anyone outside her own circle.

The news media organization noted that comments were closed 11 hours after the story was posted, following a phone call and an email from concerned readers. The editor also reported a thoughtful email exchange with a concerned reader, which became the basis of an editorial on the balancing the sensitivities of victims of crime with the need to report on a public courts process. The editor stated he is open to further discussion on how to improve reporting on delicate cases such as this in the future.

In dismissing the complaint, the NewsMedia Council found the Prince George Citizen was compliant with the publication ban, took prompt steps to stop comments when alerted to a problem, and provided an editorial that examined issues around handling a story of this nature.


2016-10: Darryl Wolk vs. Newmarket Era

Complaints about a bias, misleading reporting and conflict of interest in stories in the
Newmarket Era have been dismissed by the National NewsMedia Council.

Darryl Wolk made a number of complaints related to coverage of the mayor’s salary and a
property tax increase. He alleged a headline was biased, and that the article described him in a
way meant to cause personal discredit. He stated the article is misleading because the expert
was not provided appropriate context. He also alleged libel in the quote by the mayor that the
complainant was aware of the salary for mayor when running for office.

An article about a property tax increase prompted a complaint that the paper failed to disclose
conflict of interest by failing to report advertising revenue from the municipality. He stated that
a report of his deportment at a council meeting was a personal attack and confirmation of the
paper’s bias. The complaint also alleged the paper was biased in allowing the Mayor’s column
to appear during the election.

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The paper also denied factual error or bias in the article on mayors’ salaries, and noted the sidebar
article citing an interview with an expert provided broad context for a controversial issue. It
pointed out the numbers cited are publically available and that comparisons are not exact. The
paper stated that all sides had equal opportunity to address the issues.

The paper also stated that the Mayor’s column reflects the office rather than the candidate,
and that such a column is a common practice for community papers.

The NewsMedia Council dismissed the allegation of biased headline and misleading reporting,
noting the headline in question accurately sums up the view of the expert quoted. The
NewsMedia Council said the article includes comment from both sides as well as an expert
voice, and cited information from other cities. The article noted there is variance in calculations
related to total mayoral pay.

In dismissing the complaints of bias and conflict of interest related to the mayor’s column and
property tax story, the NewsMedia Council said there is no legal prohibition on publication of a
mayor’s column during an election, as it is considered to speak on behalf of the office, not the
candidate. It noted that municipalities routinely purchase advertising in news media, and such
practice is not regarded as conflict of interest.

Article: “Mayors fairly compensated York University political science expert says”

Published: December 16, 2015


2016-05: David Murrel vs. Globe and Mail

Two complaints from the same reader that the Globe and Mail presented opinion pieces
supporting the Liberal Party without disclosing the writer’s support of the party have been
dismissed by the National NewsMedia Council.

David Murrel alleges the articles were not labeled as opinion, and that the authors were not
adequately identified as financial supporters of the Liberal party.

The Globe pointed out that the articles were clearly identified as opinion or “insider” pieces,
and located on the Globe Debate page. They were among a number of opinion pieces published
by the Globe and Mail during the federal election campaign.

In dismissing the complaint, the NewsMedia Council noted both articles were appropriately
labeled as opinion. The authors were clearly identified by relevant credentials and/or expertise
that outweigh the impact of modest donations made to one or more political party.


2016-04: Daniel Balofsky vs. Globe and Mail

The National NewsMedia Council has dismissed a complaint that the Globe and Mail delayed
publishing a story for political purposes.

Daniel Balofsky complained that a story about provincial Liberals agreeing to reimburse
teachers’ union was held back in order to ensure a Liberal victory in the last federal election.

The public editor wrote a column about timing of the article, in which she noted Globe and Mail
editors delayed publication to avoid confusion among voters on the day of the federal election.

In her explanation, the public editor said editors may hold stories for a number of reasons. She
wrote her column to explain to readers what had happened and that, in this case, the decision
to hold the story was based on judgment about provincial versus federal issues. She argued the
story deserved more attention than it would have received if it appeared on the same day as
the federal election.

In dismissing the complaint, the NewsMedia Council noted it has no authority to dictate timing
of stories. Stories are held for a variety of reasons, and this one received due attention on
publication. The public editor provided transparency by investigating the decision to hold this
story and by explaining the news judgement behind the timing.

Article: “Ontario paid 1 million dollars to union for labour peace with high school teachers”

Published: October 19, 2015


2016-08: Rick Malboeuf vs. Milton Canadian Champion

The National NewsMedia Council has dismissed a complaint centred on an exchange of letters
to the editor in the Milton Canadian Champion.

Rick Malboeuf said his letter to the editor about a town council committee decision against an
election expenses audit was edited with his consent and posted. It prompted a member of the
community to write a letter in response, which contained contradictions to the complainant’s
statements. Both letters were vetted for libel by the paper’s lawyer.

The complainant submitted a second letter to refute what he described as errors that malign
his reputation. The editor declined to publish the rebuttal in print, though an online rebuttal
was accepted. The editor decided no further letters about the audit issue would be published
pending outcome of an appeal against the audit decision.

In dismissing the complaint, the NewsMedia Council noted the editor of the newspaper took
proper steps in handling the letters in question, including having the letters reviewed for
potential libel. Newspapers have the latitude to select which letters to the editor to publish,
and in this case offered an alternate venue via the website.

While journalism standards require that the subjects of serious allegations must have fair
opportunity to comment or respond, the contradictions cited rely on he-said, she-said
exchanges about procedural issues and verbal reports.

Article: “Milton councilor believes committee got it wrong”

Published: October 13, 2015


2016-03: Jacob Mendlovic vs. Globe and Mail

A complaint over use of allegedly offensive language in a Globe and Mail story about a new
synagogue was dismissed by the National NewsMedia Council.

Jacob Mendlovic objected to use of the term “tuchus” to refer to how many people can be
seated during worship.

He argued that the word is not a substitute for the inoffensive “buttock”. He filed a reference to
Yiddish words in English, which described the word as “vulgar”, and noted the Globe’s style
book states words which may offend readers should be avoided.

Asked for an apology, The Globe and Mail spoke to the reporter about recognizing potential for
cultural sensitivity, and conveyed that information to the complainant.

In reviewing the article, the NewsMedia Council found the word was used as a casual reference,
similar to the description of ‘bums on pews’ in Christian places of worship. On that basis and in
view of the guidance given to the reporter, the complaint was dismissed.

Article: “Why it was high time for a new place of worship”

Published: September 5, 2015


2016-02: Anne Foulliard vs. Globe and Mail

A complainant who was featured in an article on exercise and living with arthritis alleges the
Globe and Mail misled her about the intent of the article.
Anne Foulliard objected to the placement of a large ad for pain medication near the story about
her experience living with arthritis. The medication company was the series sponsor. The
complainant said the placement made it look like an advocate for the medication.
Correspondence between the paper and the complainant indicated the complainant was aware
that her story was part of a sponsored content package. The story was not altered to support
the advertiser.
The NNC notes that placement of articles near advertising is not a breach of ethics or of
acceptable editorial practices. This, and the communications between the paper and Ms.
Fouillard, have satisfied the Council that the complaint should be dismissed.
However, Council notes the ad in the print article was far more prominent than in the web
article offered as an example for the complainant to review. The link offered was not a fair
example in this case. It also appears the complainant was not informed that her story would
appear in print and so there was no explicit agreement with the complainant for use of her
story in the sponsored content print version. In light of this, Council strongly recommends that
in future dealings with subjects of sponsored content, the paper must be more forthcoming
about proximity of advertising and story placement, and about the platforms, whether print or
digital, where the story may appear.


2016-09: Kelenc vs Squamish Chief

January 2016

The National NewsMedia Council has dismissed a complaint alleging that an article in the Squamish Chief violated a publication ban.

The complainant, Susan Kelenc, alleges the paper violated a publication ban by naming the accused in sexual assault charges. She also raised concern about the story’s impact on the family of the accused. The paper had not responded to the complainant’s concerns.

The newspaper responded by stating that the story was previously reported in the Sun and Province. The reporter spoke with the court about details of the publication ban, which relates to a specific charge. The paper did not run the story on its Facebook page due to their inability to monitor comments, and disabled comments when it ran the story on its web page.

The editor copied the NNC on details of the publication ban, which showed that the publication ban extends to a specific charge and does not include the name of the accused. The NNC therefore recognizes that the paper was not in violation of the publication ban by naming the accused.

The paper contacted the complainant to explain the publication ban and the steps taken to handle the story with sensitivity to the accused and family. The complainant was advised accordingly. The NNC was copied on the correspondence.

The complainant is unhappy with the publicity generated by the story, but understands there has been no violation of journalistic standards.


2016-01: Konesavarathan vs. Guelph Mercury

A complaint against the Guelph Mercury by a former member of the Mercury’s Community
Editorial Board was dismissed by the National NewsMedia Council.

Kovarthanan Konesavarathan objected to the editing of a letter to the editor about a column he
wrote while he was a member of the paper’s community editorial board. He argued that the
Mercury staff removed two sentences with vital information.

The NNC noted the sentences removed provided specific information, but the editing did not
significantly change the tone or the intent of the original letter. As well, Council noted the
subject of the letter did not make any objection to the editing.

In that light, and considering that editing a letter to the editor is not a breach of journalistic
standards, the National NewsMedia Council has dismissed the complaint.

Article: “Guelph Neighbourhood Support Coalition letter to the editor”

Published: July 30, 2015