Note from our **NEW** Executive Chair
I am really pleased to be writing my first column as “executive chair” of the National NewsMedia Council. This is the new position I have moved into as part of a useful repositioning of our management team. The “chair” part is easy to explain: I take on the duties of running board meetings as the third chair of the NNC, following the Hon. Frances Lankin, now of the Canadian Senate, and most recently of Shelley Chrest, the last chair of the British Columbia Press Council who succeeded Frances and now takes back her former position of vice chair out west.
The “executive” part of the title has to do with my commitment to expanding our membership, particularly in the academic world where we are having success in attracting campus publications from student newspapers and digital sites to alumni and administration newsletters. I am also the public face of the council and will be doing more public writing and speaking around the country to promote our practices and mandate. The cause of an ethically responsible media is a great cause to fight for and I really want to get our message out to a wider public.
Thanks also to this reorganization we are now able to expand the role of executive director Pat Perkel whose diligent and trenchant accounts of dispute resolutions you will already be familiar with. Pat’s background, her respect for both the public’s right of reasonable and efficient redress for factual errors or ethical transgressions, as well as her profound faith in the traditional role of responsible journalism in a free society, make her ideal in this position. I am really proud to serve with her.
The organization is now assisted full-time by our communications director and community manager, Brent Jolly, whose good idea was to add our own podcast to our social media presence, and has been helping me as well on the academic file.
This is a good team that works well together and has already made important contributions to the evolving world of complaint resolutions and journalistic ethics. We are lean but not in any way mean, and our aim is stay on top of a rapidly evolving news media world in Canada. It is with our members’ support than we can do this, so I thank you all very much.
– John Fraser
We welcome new members of the National NewsMedia Council who have recently signed on.
Our new members include:
• The Pelham Voice
• Erie Media
• Niagara Independent
• Queen’s University
• Effective January 1, 2018, we have partnered with the Canadian Media Guild (Freelance) to offer their accredited members access to our pre-publication advice and other services.
Checking our Work:
Bringing Global Lessons Home
By Pat Perkel, Executive Director
As the only media council in North America, the NNC checks with peers in Europe and Australia to monitor emerging issues and evolving standards in journalism.
In that light, a recent speech by Neville Stevens, chair of the Australian Press Council, highlights some issues that might resonate with members of the Canadian news industry.
“Accountability requires quality journalism that has the trust of the community,” Stevens says in a refrain that will ring familiar. “It is the local media—the suburban or country town newspapers—that can really cover local issues”.
The public expects a responsible media that adheres to high standards of journalistic standards and ethics, and Stevens notes the Australian Press Council “through its standards of practice, has enshrined and promoted good journalistic practice.”
The NNC is unlike other press councils in that it does not have its own standards of practice, but is dedicated to ensuring that members follow their own codes and widely accepted journalistic practices and ethics. At the same time, the NNC reflects current needs by being ‘platform agnostic’, meaning that whether in print or online, it upholds rigorous journalistic standards and ethics. In Canada as in Australia or Europe, membership in a press council can enhance public trust that quality journalism is at work.
A core function of a self-regulatory body is to be an alternative to regulation. In Australia, like Canada, Stevens notes that “Publishers rightly resist government regulation”, but says the flip side is the “need to be aware of the risk of governments resorting to excessive regulation which may use the acknowledged dangers of false or manipulated information as a pretext to stifle press freedom.” Australia’s parliament has drafted concerning security legislation, while in Canada ‘national security’ and access to information are issues. Both examples point to the vital job of ensuring media freedom.
To read more of Pat Perkel’s column, please click here to visit our website.
The Complaints Desk:
By the Numbers
From mid-March until mid-May 2018, the NNC opened 11 new complaint files. Two complaints were upheld; two were resolved due to corrective action taken; four were dismissed; two were declined and one was abandoned. The majority of complaints were allegations of inaccuracy, unsupported statements or hate.
In the same period, 29 complaints were submitted but not accepted. Five complaints centred on broadcast websites; six were about delivery or advertising, and others dealt with non-members or with non-mandate issues. Complaints that are not accepted are answered, and an explanation for the decision is provided.
Of the 61 phone calls monitored in the period, 36 were about delivery, ten about customer service, and the remainder were complaints, compliments or related to news content.
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Introducing ‘The Academic Report’
This is a heads-up on “Academic Report”, a new regular feature in the Newsletter which will begin in the fall. It reflects the growing membership and importance of the academic institutions in the National NewsMedia Council, a new initiative unique in press council history anywhere. It represents a concerted effort to ally the concept of an ethical media with the fact-based research in publications of universities and community colleges in Canada; whether student campus newspapers or administration “gazetteers”, in digital or print format.
The academic programme began in earnest towards the end of 2017 and has already welcomed the following members: University of Toronto, Ontario College of Art University, Ryerson University, Centennial College, Carleton University, Algonquin College, Queen’s University, McGill University and Concordia University. Several other institutions are seriously considering membership and overtures to western and eastern Canada will take place this summer. Stay tuned!
As well, the NNC is well into the process of selecting the winners for the 2018 Fraser MacDougall Prize. This award goes to a campus newspaper reporter/editor for the best article on a human rights topic published in campus media. This programme was designed to engage campus newspapers and student journalists in the business of ensuring new generations of young people committed to responsible journalism.
The NNC has already been able to offer services to several institutions beyond our basic guarantee to mediate any disputes brought to our attention. As well, NNC staff has conducted seminars at Centennial College, the University of Toronto, and Carleton University during the last six months to discuss ethics in journalism. We look forward to repeat visits in the new academic year.
Moreover, the NNC has provided valuable advice to academic members, and in both cases, the proffered advice was appreciated and acted upon effectively. As with any new initiative, the academic programme at the NNC is a work in progress and we are particularly open to requests, suggestions and criticisms from our members. As the initiative grows, there will inevitably be new challenges, but we look forward to them.
– John Fraser
37 Front Street File: Ethical Practices a Foundation for Quality Journalism, Public Trust
The world of journalism often sets out to ascribe how ‘things ought to be’ in tersely-worded absolute truths. The traditional canons of ‘prove first’, ‘publish second’, ‘use multiple sources’, and ‘remain transparent’ echo as loud in today’s digital-first environment as they did during the industry’s ‘great awakening’ in the 1960s and 1970s.
But what happens when the application of industry practices go from being cast in simple black and white to being muddled by murky shades of grey?
Welcome, friends, to the challenging and complex world of journalism ethics.
Although often portrayed in style guides as neatly manicured walled gardens, the practical application of journalism standards and ethics is much more akin to an endless string of rolling hills.
Earlier this month, at the Canadian Association of Journalists national conference, NNC staff took part in an ethics seminar that reinforced this very point.
The session leaders distributed about a half dozen sticky scenarios to a room full of participants. They ranged from negotiating terms of an interview with a key source; to taking visuals of a sacred Indigenous ceremony; to whether sponsored content should be used, and if so, how it should be properly labelled.
The discussion was, in a word, lively. What was remarkable was the degree of nuance presented by the participants. Instead of simply determining between what is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, the discussion centred on an exchange of ideas, where concepts such as ‘accuracy’, ‘fairness’, ‘independence’, and ‘accountability’ were weighed against each other and put into every day practice.
Given today’s plethora of media voices and choices, I found this discussion particularly heartening because it reinforced the multiple roles the NNC can play in building a stronger Canadian media industry.
By providing a forum where thorny ethical situations can be discussed on an ongoing basis, the NNC acts as a mediator for its industry members on new and emerging challenges. As a public institution, by contrast, the NNC acts a conduit between the journalism industry and those in the public who don’t fully grasp how news is made.
Over the past few months, this message is increasingly taking hold. As you can see at the top of this newsletter, we continue to welcome new forward-thinking members who believe that ethics, and a commitment to transparency, can act as a common foundation to challenge unfounded allegations of ‘fake news’.
Nevertheless, we’ve also come to realize that some organizations only discover the NNC during the heat of a crisis.
That’s ok, too.
Regardless of how you find us, when you need our help or advice, we are always here to provide help or advice. We’re just a phone call or an email away. We aren’t going anywhere.
– Brent Jolly, Director of Communication and Community Manager
We’d like to introduce you to our new podcast:
Our second guest is:
Local News 2.0:
The Thorold News, The Niagara Independent, The Voice of Pelham
Independent news providers in Ontario’s Niagara region are working to fill gaps in their local coverage by launching new publications and adopting new business models.
After 14 years, Bob Liddycoat and his wife Cathy Pelletier relaunched the Thorold News as a digital-only publication.
But he’s not the only Niagara region resident to heed the call to service in the form of hyperlocal digital news. The National NewsMedia Council’s Cara Sabatini looks deeper into the burgeoning local news culture in Southern Ontario.
You can read her full piece on our Medium channel.
Have a complaint about news, opinion, or photos? See the National NewsMedia Council website at mediacouncil.ca or call 1-844-877-1163 for information.
We are hard at work and we are eager to share with you what we are doing! Please follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Medium to keep up to date on our most recent activities, and to stay informed about important discussions related to journalism in Canada.