Update from the NNC’s complaints desk: March 24, 2022

Below are several complaints that the National NewsMedia Council received and addressed through reader education about journalism standards and best practices over the past few weeks.

Readers express strong opinions on opinion polls

Two individuals complained about what they felt was inappropriate reporting about a public opinion poll that gauged Canadians’ attitudes about people who are not vaccinated. The poll showed the majority of respondents were in favour of mandatory vaccination, and that more than a quarter of respondents favoured a jail sentence for people who chose not to be vaccinated.

The complainants expressed concern that simply reporting on the poll was irresponsible and unfairly demonized a segment of the population. The NNC agrees that reporting on public opinion polls should be done responsibly and in proper context. In this case, the article presented important information to readers about the organization that conducted the poll, how the poll was conducted, the total number of respondents, and the margin of error. The NNC observed that the complainants’ concerns centred on the results of the poll, rather than the reporting of it, and found no evidence to support a complaint about a breach of journalistic standards. (Case ID: 2022-07)

Some comments on comment moderation

The NNC received two separate complaints from individuals concerned about comment moderation. In the first case, one individual was concerned that his comment was unfairly removed from a community news site. A second individual expressed concern to the NNC that a news organization did not take appropriate steps to remove what he felt was an offensive comment about the Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

It is the view of the NNC that comments and letters to the editor are designed to promote reader engagement and enhance discussion in the community. At the same time, the NNC recognizes that news organizations have an interest in ensuring that conversations remain appropriate and on topic. That said, it pointed out that in addition to engaging in their own comment moderation, many news organizations’ platforms allow readers to flag comments that may violate community standards, and as such, that it may take some time for comments to appear or to be removed. The NNC view is that news organizations have the prerogative to allow or to prohibit commenting on articles, and to moderate comments for appropriateness and relevance as they see fit, which may include removing comments that include inappropriate language or promote misinformation. (Case IDs: 2022-12, 2022-13)

Dogged reporting is critical when publishing allegations against others

A dog owner, who’s dog was involved in an attack, argued that a local news story that reported on the event was inaccurate and did not include her side of the story. The complainant was not named in the article, and told the NNC that she wished to remain anonymous.

Standard journalistic practice requires that journalists corroborate information, including allegations against others. In this case, the story relied on multiple sources to retell the proceeding of events, in accordance with standard practice. The NNC also noted that transparency is critical to the credibility of reporting on events in the public interest. Standard journalistic practice indicates that sources should seldom be granted anonymity, and only for exceedingly compelling reasons, such as protecting victims of serious crimes. Given the practice of limiting the use of anonymous sources, the NNC agreed with the news organization’s position that granting anonymity to include additional on-the-record comments would be outside its normal practices, and did not find grounds to support a complaint about a breach of journalistic standards. (Case ID: 2022-17)