Below are some frequently asked questions about the NNC complaints process and hearings.
The following information is for general guidance. If your question not listed here, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-844-877-1163. We’ll be happy to help you with an answer.
The Complaints Process
What type of complaints does the National NewsMedia Council consider?
The Council considers complaints about journalistic standards and ethics related to gathering and reporting a news or opinion article, photo, or editorial cartoon. It does not consider complaints about advertising, delivery, subscriptions, or crossword puzzles. Any individual or organization may make a complaint about a member print or online news publication.
Anonymous complaints will not be accepted.
Is there a deadline for complaints?
A complaint must normally be filed within one month of the date on which the relevant article was published.
Does the Council accept all complaints?
The NewsMedia Council reviews all complaints but does not always decide to act. To be considered, a complaint must focus on a specific alleged violation of journalistic or ethical standards.
Journalistic standards include accuracy, context, and opportunity to respond to harmful allegations or statements. Learn more about the types of complaints we handle here.
- The NNC has absolute discretion about whether or not to accept any complaint. There is no appeal of the NNC’s decision, including the decision not to act on a complaint.
- The NNC does not consider complaints that in any way involve legal action.
- It will also use discretion to consider complaints that are largely similar to those on which it has already issued a finding.
Will my complaint be confidential?
The Council’s decision, including your name and the name of the news media organization, will be published.
Relevant details of the complaint may also be published in the form of a decision, by news media organizations, or in a newsletter for educational purposes. Personal details will be other than your name will be excluded as much as possible.
During the complaints process, it is expected that parties will keep correspondence confidential so as to ensure that due process is conducted in a fair and just manner. Communication with newsroom staff, or complainant support persons, for the purpose of resolving the complaint, is also expected to be treated with confidentiality.
Posting information publicly during the complaint process would be considered a violation and act of bad faith.
Once the complaint has been resolved, or a decision has been issued, the NNC may publish relevant complaint details in the form of a decisions, or in a newsletter, for educational purposes. Reports on NNC decisions may also be published by news media organizations.
Do I need to contact the news organization with my complaint?
Yes. A complaint will be considered only after the news media organization has been given an opportunity to resolve the issue.
What if the news organization refuses to print or alters my letter to the editor?
News media organizations are not obliged to publish every letter received. Letters may be edited for length, clarity, taste or legal reasons. The NNC may consider complaints that editing has altered the meaning of a letter, but will not order a member news organization to publish a letter or comment.
Online commenting is subject to terms and conditions stated by the site in question.
What if my complaint is about columns, editorials or cartoons?
The Council supports the broad leeway of editorial writers to express strong or unpopular viewpoints. Though the NewsMedia Council will not usually adjudicate a complaint about an opinion, it may consider complaints about uncorrected factual errors or hateful language in columns and editorials.
What if all I want is an apology?
The NewsMedia Council cannot compel a member news media organization to make an apology, but it does require that the decision on an upheld complaint is published.
What happens after I send in my complaint?
- NewsMedia Council staff will investigate the complaint and the news media organization’s response.
- Staff assist both parties through the process, and rely on the news outlet’s code of practice or generally accepted journalistic standards to resolve the complaint through corrective action, education, or other appropriate steps.
- If staff mediation does not resolve the complaint, a recommendation based on a staff review of the information and arguments submitted by the complainant and by the news organization will be presented to Council for consideration.
- Council will review the complaint, response, and related materials, and may decide to dismiss, uphold, or dismiss with reservations.
- Council may also make a finding of resolved due to corrective action taken by a member. This finding may relate to a situation where a complaint was founded but appropriate corrective action was taken by the news organization after NNC involvement.
The news organization may elect to take corrective action at any point in the complaints process.
Decisions on complaints are final and not subject to appeal.
Council may also determine to call a hearing into a complaint.
How many complaints can I file at once?
The NNC accepts complaints from individuals about specific allegations of breaches of standards in individual articles. It does not deal with overarching trends in reporting.
Please note that the NNC assesses complaints filed by the same individuals or organizations consecutively. Complainants with open complaint files are asked not to submit additional complaints on separate issues.
Multiple complaints from separate individuals dealing with the same issue may be assessed together.
Abuse of process such as filing numerous complaints concurrently or ‘spamming’ the submission form will not be tolerated and will be grounds for termination of the complaints process.
Do I need a lawyer?
No. The NewsMedia Council requires complainants to sign a waiver agreeing not to pursue legal action, and will not accept legal submissions from either side. The NNC is not a court of law.
What will this cost?
Nothing. The NNC is a not-for-profit self-regulatory organization. There is no charge to file a complaint, for mediation, or for a hearing.
What is the media organization required to do if my complaint is upheld?
If the complaint is upheld, the news media organization will publish, at minimum, a summary of the decision and link to the full decision on the NNC website, and add that link with an appropriate editor’s note to the article if it is online.
If the complaint is dismissed or resolved due to corrective action, the news organization is not required to publish the decision or link to it, though it may choose to do so.
News media organizations: How to respond to a complaint
What should you do if you receive a complaint?
- If you have not already communicated with the complainant to see if the problem can be resolved, please do so as quickly as possible.
- If you decline to respond to the complainant or the NNC, the NNC may elect to proceed with the complaint based on submissions and relevant materials at hand.
Please view the complaints process page for more information.
Can we correct an error after a complaint has been filed with the NNC?
Yes. The NNC process is aimed at remedy and it encourages open discussion and corrective action on a complaint. In such a case, the NNC may find that a complaint has been resolved due to corrective action.
What happens when the Council makes a ruling?
If a complaint is upheld, you must publish a fair report including, at minimum, a summary of the decision, and a link to the decision on the NNC website. This should be published in the place normally used for corrections.
A link to the NNC decision must also be appended to the online version of the article, along with an appropriate editor’s note.
While not required, you may also publish a report or link to the decision when a complaint has been dismissed or resolved due to corrective action. Members are encouraged to report on all hearing decisions of the NewsMedia Council.
NewsMedia Council Hearings
What does a hearing involve?
In the event that a hearing is held, the complainant and the news organization are invited and encouraged to participate before a panel where both parties are given opportunity to present their views.
Council will set time limits for the submission of responses, in default of which the Council or hearing panel may proceed to deal with the complaint.
The complainant and news organization will each be invited to make brief presentations.
Panel members will have opportunity to question both parties, and both parties will be allowed to make final statements.
All comments will be addressed through the hearing’s chair.
Who is on the hearing panel?
The panel is chaired by a public director of the NNC. The remaining two to four panel members are NNC directors representing the public and news media organizations, with public directors forming the majority.
The news media involved in the complaint is not permitted to be represented on the panel.
Will I be able to meet the journalist I am complaining about at the hearing?
Not necessarily. The NNC considers a complaint to be against the news media organization, not against the journalist. Typically, the media organization is represented by a senior editor. The columnist or reporter may attend the hearing, but is not obliged to do so.
When will I know the result?
You will be informed as soon as the hearing panel’s recommendation has been approved by Council. Both the complainant and news organization will be informed at the same time, and in advance of releasing the decision to the public.
If the complaint is upheld, the decision must be published in the news media organization, and will be distributed for publication and posted on the NNC website.
NNC decisions on hearings are final. There is no appeal process.