In addition to the regular volume of complaints the National NewsMedia Council receives from the public about the editorial standards of the journalism produced by our member titles, we also hear from individuals who are concerned about what they see as insufficient coverage of a particular subject, or those who would like to see a specific story appear in the news.
Over the last week, as a convoy of trucks and other demonstrators descended on Ottawa to protest COVID-related restrictions, the NNC received and responded to a deluge of more than 350 complaints from concerned Canadians. Many, for example, emphasized their concern about a lack of coverage of the “Freedom Convoy” and its message of rolling back vaccine mandates. Others also expressed their displeasure that their perspectives were not adequately reflected in “mainstream” news coverage.
By and large, the vast majority of complaints zeroed in on broadcast outlets, such as CBC, CTV, and Global News. In our responses, we emphasized three important points.
First, we explained that complaints about materials aired on television and radio news are handled by the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council. We would clarify, for the purposes of this communication, however, there is no complaints-handling body empowered with the mandate to handle public complaints against the websites of what are considered traditional broadcasting outlets.
Second, the NNC clarified its mandate to the complainants. While we welcome feedback on what the public sees as ‘emerging issues’, our organization’s focus is to assess specific complaints about breaches of journalistic standards—such as inaccuracy and lack of opportunity to respond to harmful statements—in individual, published news and opinion articles.
That said, as a matter of clarification, we explained to complainants that there has been, and continues to be, significant coverage of the issue in both news and opinion pieces.
Third, we emphasized that the NNC does not dictate to news organizations what stories should be covered. In keeping with fundamental rights to freedom of expression and freedom of the press, the NNC supports the view that decisions about what news to cover rightly rests with individual news media organizations.
Several complainants responded to our notes expressing their outrage over news organizations’ coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic, specifically, and their distrust of the news media in general. Some appreciated our responses, others were less than polite. One individual even sent us a NSFW song.
While complaints, both real and unfounded continue to stream in, this experience provided an opportunity to underscore the important role news literacy plays in Canadian democracy.
Generally speaking, news organizations in Canada adhere to widely-accepted journalistic standards when reporting and opining on the news. We recognize that the pandemic has been challenging for journalists on a number of levels, and news organizations have risen to the challenge of dealing with fast-developing information, complex data, and sometimes conflicting perspectives.
What is a challenge, of course, is that building trust with readers, in both analogue and digital public spheres, is a difficult and long-term exercise. We do this through several actions, including always respectfully acknowledging the displeasure of complaints, even when the rhetoric kicks into high gear. and attempting to better understand reader concerns against the backdrop of widely-accepted journalistic standards.