Below is guidance on frequently asked questions about the complaints process and hearings.
The following information is for general guidance only. 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
1. What type of complaints does the National NewsMedia Council consider?
Any individual or organization in Canada may approach the Council about media ethics or journalistic standards related to gathering and reporting a news or opinion article, editorial, photo, or editorial cartoon in a member print or online publication. Anonymous complaints will not be accepted.
2. 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.
3. 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.
The NNC has absolute discretion about whether or not to hear any complaint. There is no appeal of the NNC’s decision not to hear a complaint.
The NNC does not consider complaints that in any way involve legal action and does not generally consider complaints that are largely similar to those on which it has already issued a finding.
4. Do I need to contact the media organization with my complaint?
Yes. The Council will consider a complaint only after the media organization has been given an opportunity to resolve the complaint.
5. What if the media organization refuses to print or alters 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. Letters and comments 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 may not order a paper to publish a letter or comment.
6. 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.
7. 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 the decision on an upheld complaint is published by the newspaper or online platform involved.
8. 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 the staff review 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.
Decisions on complaints are final and not subject to appeal.
Council may also determine to call a hearing into a complaint.
9. 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.
10. What will this cost me?
There is no charge to file a complaint, for mediation or for a hearing.
11. What is the media organization required to do if my complaint is upheld?
The newspaper or online platform concerned will publish the hearing report in full if Council finds in favour of the complainant. If the complaint is not upheld, the newspaper may publish part or all of the hearing report.
Media organizations: How to respond to a complaint
12. What should a member news media organization do if it receives 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.
When the NNC forwards a complaint, you have 15 business days to respond to the complainant and copy the NNC. After that time, if there has been no resolution, the complaint will proceed to Council for consideration.
13. What happens when the Council makes a ruling?
If a complaint is upheld, you must publish a fair report, including the text of the decision. You may also publish a report when a complaint has been dismissed, or publish a link to the NNC decision. Members are encouraged to report on all hearing decisions of the NewsMedia Council.
NewsMedia Council Hearings
14. 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 fully present their views.
Council will be authorized to fix 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 the paper will both 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 chair.
15. Who is on the hearing panel?
The panel is composed of NNC directors representing the public and media organizations. The chair is a public director, and public directors will form a majority on the panel. The media director on a hearing panel is not employed by the media organization involved in the complaint.
16. Will I be able to meet the reporter or 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 newspaper or online organization itself, not against a member of its staff.
17. When will I know the result?
The hearing panel must take its recommendation to the NewsMedia Council. The decision will then be communicated to the parties. If the complaint is upheld, it must be published in the news media organization, and a copy of the adjudication will be distributed for publication and posted on the NNC website. NNC decisions on hearings are final. There is no appeal process.