Update from the Complaints Desk – May 5, 2022

All four complaints summarized in this latest ‘Update from the Complaints Desk’ relate to journalistic sourcing. 

NNC staff regularly hear from engaged readers who critique stories that appear in member publications for a variety of reasons, sometimes because the stories do not hear from certain sources or other times because they do not include specific research findings or examine particular angles. 

Council has long supported the view that journalists have the prerogative to select the story’s sources and scope. Standard journalistic practice calls for news organizations to report information with accuracy and precision, to demonstrate fairness, and to corroborate claims or allegations. While readers may find other sources to support their views, this, in itself, does not always constitute a breach of journalistic standards. 

Hearing the half of it: Accuracy in an audio story 

One individual expressed concern about an alleged inaccuracy in an episode of a podcast that covered the story of police arrests at a protest. The complainant cited information provided by the RCMP to government officials to support their claim. 

The NNC reviewed the episode in question and noted the story was corroborated by observations from witnesses at the scene, including those who were arrested. The host also presented the statements from law enforcement and asked the guests to respond. This aligns with standard journalistic practice. 

The NNC noted that the complainant did not first demonstrate a reasonable attempt to resolve their concerns with the news organization directly. That said, the NNC found no grounds to support a claim of inaccuracy. (2022-11)

What constitutes sufficient context in breaking news? 

An individual was concerned that a ‘breaking news’ article did not include sufficient context about the reason for a judge’s decision to grant bail to “Freedom Convoy” protest organizer Tamara Lich. 

The article included information about the reason that a bail review was launched but did not delve into the details of the legal reasons behind the judge’s decision to grant bail. Generally speaking, breaking news updates offer immediate information to readers on a story of importance. In this way, they are different from longer form pieces, such as features or analysis pieces. . 

In its review, the NNC found that the article in question presented a brief report about a new development in a matter of public interest at the time. The NNC found no evidence to support a breach of journalistic standards. (2022-23)

‘That’s not funny’: Concerns about story selection in the entertainment section 

One individual wrote to the NNC arguing that an article about the Ukrainian president’s background as a former comedian, which was published in the entertainment section of a newspaper, was inappropriate in light of the devastating effects of the war in Ukraine. 

In reviewing the article in question, the NNC noted that the article offered a closer look at the unique background and skillset of an international public figure and the impact such skills may have on his political ability and leadership style. 

The NNC found no evidence to support a breach of journalistic standards in this case, and emphasized that journalists may choose the focus of a story for a wide range of journalistic purposes, including offering elements of human interest or providing nuanced perspectives on a specific topic. (2022-26)

Staying within the story’s scope when drawing on specific scientific findings 

An individual expressed concern that an article in a series about domestic violence did not adequately represent men as victims. The complainant wished to see the findings of a particular research study included in the article. The study showed men were equally likely as women to experience a form of abusive behaviour called coercive control, but less likely to report it. 

The NNC agreed that stigma can play a major role in the decision to report an incident, and that may impact available data on a number of sensitive subjects. However, the failure to include a specific scientific finding does not indicate a breach of journalistic standards. News stories are not necessarily intended to offer or compare the results of an entire body of scientific evidence on a vast area of study or complex issue, such as domestic violence. 

In this case, the article heard from individuals who had personal experience with the issue, and cited data and information from professionals in the field, to communicate to readers the severity of the problem. 

The NNC found that the information cited by the complainant did not directly contradict the statements in the article and found no grounds to support a breach of journalistic standards. (2022-27)