2016-75: Marvin Ross vs Dundas Star News

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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
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.