FAQ

Below is guidance on frequently asked questions about the complaints process and council hearings, as well as advice for media organizations about responding to a complaint.

The following information is for general guidance only. For specific information, or if you have a question not listed here, please email us at info@mediacouncil.ca or call 1-844-877-1163. We will be happy to answer your questions.

The Complaints Process

1. What types of complaints does the National NewsMedia Council consider?
2. Who can complain about a member media organization?
3. Do I need to contact the media organization with my complaint?
4. Does the Council address all complaints?
5. Where can I get information about journalistic standards?
6. What if the media organization refuses to print my letter to the editor?
7. What if they publish my letter or comment but not as I wrote it?
8. What if my complaint is about columns, editorials or cartoons?
9. What if all I want is an apology?
10. If I haven’t been able to resolve the problem with the media organization on my own, how do I proceed?
11. When must my complaint be filed?
12. How much detail does the Council need?
13. What happens after I send in my complaint?
14. May I appeal a decision not to adjudicate my complaint?
15. Do I need a lawyer?
16. What will this cost me?

Council Hearings

17. What do I need to do before the hearing?
18. What should I take to the hearing?
19. May I bring along others with the same or a similar complaint?
20. Who is on the hearing panel?
21. Will I be able to meet the reporter/columnist I am complaining about at the hearing?
22. How does the hearing proceed?
23. When will I know the result?
24. May I appeal the result?
25. What is the media organization required to do if my complaint is upheld?

Media Organizations: How to Respond to a Complaint

26. What should a member media organization do if it receives a complaint?
27. What should my media organization do if a hearing is scheduled?
28. What happens when the Council makes a ruling?

The Complaints Process

1. What types of complaints does the National NewsMedia Council consider?

We deal with:

  • unsatisfied complaints from the public concerning accuracy, fairness and balance in the way that member media organizations gather and report news or opinion in print and/or digital format
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2. Who can complain about a member media organization?

Any individual or organization may approach the Council about media ethics or journalistic standards related to a news or opinion article, editorial, photo, or editorial cartoon. Anonymous complaints will not be accepted.

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3. Do I need to contact the media organization with my complaint?

Yes. The Council will consider a complaint only after:

  1. The media organization has been given an opportunity to resolve the complaint
  2. The action taken by the media organization has failed to satisfy the complainant
  3. Intervention by the Council’s staff has failed to resolve the issue
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4. Does the Council address 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. It does not, generally, consider complaints that are largely similar to those on which it has already issued a finding.

The Council does not consider complaints that in any way involve legal action.

The Council has absolute discretion about whether or not to hear any complaint.

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5. Where can I get information about journalistic standards?

Our website includes a link to a code of ethics developed by the Canadian Association of Journalists. Individual news media may also have their own standards of practice posted on their websites.

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6. What if the media organization refuses to print my letter to the editor?

Media organizations are often inundated with letters to the editor and online comments. There is no obligation for them to publish every letter received, and the National NewsMedia Council may not order them to do so.

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7. What if they publish my letter or comment but not as I wrote it?

Media organizations have the discretion to edit letters or online comment for length, clarity, taste or legal reasons. The Council may consider complaints that editing has altered the broad meaning of a letter.

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8. 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 unnecessarily hurtful language in columns and editorials.

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9. What if all I want is an apology?

The NewsMedia Council cannot compel a media organization to make an apology, but it does require that a relevant hearing decision is published by the media organization involved.

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10. If I haven’t been able to resolve the problem with the media organization on my own, how do I proceed?

You may contact the NewsMedia Council in writing or using the online form, describing the specific nature of your complaint. Include a copy of or link to the article, and copies of your correspondence with the media organization.

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11. When must my complaint be filed?

A complaint must normally be filed within one month of the date on which the relevant article was published.

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12. How much detail does the Council need?

A concise summary of the problem is better than dozens of pages. Your written complaint should include:

  • Your name, address, phone number and email address
  • A brief explanation of the complaint, issue or concern
  • A copy of the article, cartoon, picture, or editorial in question
  • Copies of any correspondence with the news organization
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13. What happens after I send in my complaint?

NewsMedia Council staff will investigate the complaint and endeavour to mediate a solution. The Council will expect media organizations to respond to complaints in a timely manner.

If staff mediation does not resolve the complaint, a recommendation based on staff review of information from the complainant and the media will be submitted to Council for consideration.

Council will review the complaint and may decide to dismiss, uphold, or dismiss with reservations.

Council may also make a finding of resolved due to corrective action taken by member. This finding may relate to a situation where a complaint was founded but appropriate corrective action was taken by the member news organization after NNC involvement.

Council may also determine that it will call a hearing to adjudicate a complaint.

Council will be authorized to fix time limits for the submission of responses, in default of which the Council or a panel may proceed to deal with the complaint.

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14. May I appeal a decision not to adjudicate my complaint?

No.

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15. Do I need a lawyer?

No. The NewsMedia Council will not accept legal submissions or representations from either side. This is not a court of law; complaints to the Council are strictly between the complainant and the media organization. Complainants are required to sign a waiver agreeing not to pursue legal action.

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16. What will this cost me?

There is no charge to file a complaint.

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Council Hearings

17. What do I need to do before the hearing?

Ensure your written evidence has been submitted within 10 days of the hearing and prepare your oral presentation. You are welcome to read from your notes at the hearing.

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18. What should I take to the hearing?

You may bring any notes you require to make your presentation and explain your position. Panel members and the media organization will have reviewed the evidence that you supplied in advance, so there is no need to bring additional copies.

 

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19. May I bring along others with the same or a similar complaint?

If a hearing is scheduled, only your original complaint will be considered. You may bring supporting witnesses and they may speak briefly, but you must provide their names prior to the hearing. The chair of the hearing retains full discretion over who attends and speaks. Any additional materials from supporting witnesses must be provided 10 days prior to the hearing.

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20. Who is on the hearing panel?

The panel is composed of  NewsMedia Council members representing the public and media organizations. The chair is a public member, and public members will form a majority on the panel. The media member on a hearing panel is not employed by the media organization involved in the complaint.

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21. Will I be able to meet the reporter/columnist I am complaining about at the hearing?

Typically the media organization is represented by a senior editor. There is no obligation for the columnist or reporter to attend the hearing. The NewsMedia Council considers a complaint to be against the media organization itself, not against a member of its staff.

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22. How does the hearing proceed?

The hearing is attended by the complainant, the media organization, the hearing panel members, and senior NewsMedia Council staff. The hearing does not require swearing in and is structured as follows:

  1. The complainant has roughly 10 minutes to present the complaint, evidence and comments
  2. The media organization has the same amount of time to present its case
  3. The complainant has up to five minutes to rebut
  4. The media organization has the same opportunity to rebut
  5. Panel members ask questions of either party for up to 20 minutes
  6. The complainant and the media organization may each make a brief closing statement

All comments are addressed to the hearing chair, and there is no direct exchange between the complainant and media organization. Immediately after the hearing, the panel meets in private to decide whether to uphold or dismiss the complaint. The panel’s recommendation is presented to the NewsMedia Council for approval.

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23. When will I know the result?

The hearing panel must take its recommendation to the NewsMedia Council. The decision of the panel will then be communicated to the parties and a copy of the adjudication will be issued to the media for publication.

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24May I appeal the result?

No.

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25. What is the media organization required to do if my complaint is upheld?

The media concerned will publish the hearing panel report in full if the panel finds in favour of the complainant. If the complaint is not upheld, the member media may carry part or all of the findings. Other media may also decide to report on the adjudication.

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Media Organizations: How to Respond to a Complaint

26. What should a member media organization do if it receives a complaint?

If you have not already communicated with the complainant to see if the problem can be cleared up, please do so as quickly as possible.

If the NewsMedia Council forwards a complaint to you, you will be given 15 business days to respond to the complainant, and to send a copy of your response to the NewsMedia Council. After that time, if there has been no resolution, the complaint goes to the Council to consider whether to dismiss, uphold, or call a hearing into the complaint.

 

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27. What should my media organization do if a hearing is scheduled?

You should gather any information you need to explain or defend the article(s) being complained about. Send any written evidence  to the NewsMedia Council at least 10 business days prior to the hearing; the complainant will be asked to do the same so that all parties can share background information before the hearing.

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28.  What happens when the Council makes a ruling?

If a complaint against you is upheld, you must publish a fair and comprehensive report, including the text of the adjudication. You may do the same when a complaint has been dismissed, or you may publish a fair report of the decision with a link to the full adjudication on your website. Member media organizations are also encouraged to report on all other hearing decisions of the NewsMedia Council.

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