Truth and accuracy are top complaints to Irish Press Council

(Credit: Press Council of Ireland)

Almost 50% of the 278 complaints to the Irish Press Council in 2015 were over truth and accuracy, Ireland’s press ombudsman revealed, according to the Irish Times. Nearly a quarter of complaints focused on privacy.

The ombudsman’s report was released in late May, noting the council’s ninth year in existence. “The critical functions of the Press Ombudsman’s Office and the Press Council is to offer an independent complaints handling service,” the statement from press ombudsman Peter Feeney says.

“I have been in office since September 2014, the term of office is for three years, but it can be renewed,” Feeney told iMediaEthics by e-mail.

On the council’s website, Feeney reminded journalists of the importance of protecting privacy and determining what is in the public interest.

“I would ask all editors and reporters to be aware of their considerable responsibility to protect children’s interests and to respect the privacy of individuals,” Feeney said. “Of course there is no absolute right to privacy, but privacy can only be breached if publication of something private is already on the public record or if its publication can be justified as in the public interest. I would ask all journalists to consider carefully what ‘in the public interest’ means and to not confuse the public being interested in something as necessarily the same as in the public interest.”

The top ten reasons people complained to the council in 2015 were:

  1. Truth and accuracy
  2. Privacy
  3. Distinguishing fact and comment
  4. Prejudice
  5. Fair procedures and honesty
  6. Court reporting
  7. Respect for rights
  8. Children
  9. Protection of source
  10. Publication of the decision of the press ombudsman/press council

The ombudsman decided 34 complaints, 18 were resolved, 3 were closed or withdrawn and in 79 complaints, the complainant dropped their complaint.

Hat Tip: Ethical Journalism Network

National NewsMedia Council is moving

The National NewsMedia Council office is moving. We will continue to share space with Newspapers Canada (CCNA and CNA), but effective July 1, 2016, our new office address will be:

National News Media Council
37 Front Street East, Suite 200
Toronto, Ontario  M5E 1B3

Our telephone number remains unchanged:  416-340-1981 or 1-844-877-1163

Our email address is also unchanged.

Canada Post ordered to stop delivering controversial Your Ward News

By Emmett Shane, CBC News –

The federal government has ordered Canada Post to stop delivering Your Ward News, a low-budget, free newspaper that has offended homeowners in Toronto’s east end and beyond.

The newspaper, which is the brainchild of editor-in-chief James Sears, has been labelled anti-Semitic and pro-Nazi by several groups who have campaigned for years to get Canada Post to cease distributing it.

They got their wish Monday when the minister responsible for Canada Post, Judy Foote, issued what’s known as a prohibitory order against the future delivery of the paper.

A group called Standing Together Against Mailing Prejudice (STAMP) hailed the decision Monday in a news release.

“We are ecstatic about the minister’s decision,” said Lisa Kinsella, managing partner of The Daisy Group and one of the founding members of STAMP.

“For too long, Your Ward News has been permitted to disseminate racism, homophobia, misogyny and anti-Semitism to as many as 300,000 homes in Toronto. Minister Foote’s swift and decisive action means that this disgusting material will no longer be landing in the mailboxes of people who don’t want it.”

Sears, who has presented himself in the past as pick-up artist Dmitri The Lover and had his licence to practise medicine revoked after pleading guilty to sexually assaulting patients, has also been accused of publishing articles in Your Ward News that demean women and insult the LGBT community.

Sears told CBC News Monday evening he will fight the order, calling it a “temporary inconvenience” that only affects the paper’s distribution to apartment buildings.

“We’ve done nothing illegal. There have been no criminal charges filed. It is an arbitrary decision,” Sears said, denying Your Ward News publishes hate speech.

“We’re just a satirical, offensive newspaper. It has been found multiple times by Canada Post lawyers that we’re not breaking any hate-speech laws.”

Sears accused Foote of issuing the order to silence criticism of the government.

“We’re the top paper that’s critical of the Liberal Party in all of Canada,” he said.

Sears does have an avenue of appeal. He has 10 days after the date of the notice to ask for a review panel, which would be appointed by the minister. He formally requested the panel Monday evening but says he believes the issue will have to go before “a real judge.”

“I expect [the review panel] to be a kangaroo court and once the kangaroo court reaffirms her illegal, unethical decision, then we can go in front of the real judge and have the real judge overturn it.”

But Kinsella, who spoke to CBC News Monday evening, said Your Ward News is nothing more than hate speech.

“It is not satirical, it is hate promotion and there is nothing satirical about that at all … This is not about free speech,” she said.

“It is the most disgusting, vile thing I’ve seen published.”

Court makes award in 2008 defamation case

Bill Graveland
Calgary — The Canadian Press
Published Wednesday, Jun. 08, 2016 1:31PM EDT
Last updated Wednesday, Jun. 08, 2016 8:40PM EDT

Former television war correspondent Arthur Kent choked back tears Wednesday after winning an eight-year-old lawsuit against one of Canada’s largest media companies over a column that called him “Dud Scud.”

A judge ruled that Postmedia and its former columnist Don Martin defamed Kent while he was running for a seat in the Alberta legislature in 2008.

“I’m feeling a measure of vindication from the ruling,” Kent said outside court. “Truth still matters in journalism — and isn’t that good news. Truth, accuracy and balance matter on the Internet and … no genuine journalist will be anything but reassured and encouraged by this court decision.”

Justice Jo’Anne Strekaf ruled that the article “when read as a whole would cause right-thinking members of society to think less of Mr. Kent.”

She said the damage to Kent’s reputation was “exacerbated by the exaggerations and sarcastic tone in the article, by aspects of Mr. Martin’s conduct and by the unfairness to Mr. Kent from Mr. Martin’s failure to provide him with an opportunity to respond prior to publication of the article.”

“While the article did not accuse Mr. Kent of any illegal or immoral acts, it characterized him as an egotistical, politically naive, arrogant candidate whose campaign was in disarray,” she wrote.

She awarded Kent a total of $200,000 in damages from the defendants — $150,000 from Martin and Postmedia for the article and an additional $50,000 from Postmedia for continuing to publish the article online.

Martin referred calls to CTV, where he is now a host. CTV also declined to comment. Postmedia’s Phyllise Gelfand would only say the company is “reviewing the decision.”

Kent, who got the nickname “Scud Stud” while reporting for NBC during the Persian Gulf war, was a star candidate for the Alberta Progressive Conservatives during the 2008 campaign, but was on record as disagreeing with some party policies.

Martin’s column, which used unnamed sources, painted Kent as an out-of-control, egomaniac who had alienated party staff.

“Alberta Conservatives have bestowed problem candidate Arthur Kent with a less flattering designation as he noisily blusters his way through their reeling election campaign — the Dud Scud,” Martin wrote.

The Tories went on to win a majority in the election, but Kent lost his race.

The trial heard from Martin’s sources.

Lawyer Kristine Robidoux acknowledged that she sent Martin emails from Tory insiders complaining about Kent, but said she regretted doing that after seeing the article.

Party insider Alan Hallman testified he had no problem feeding Martin information, because he thought Kent had embarrassed the party.

The two central figures also testified.

Kent called the article a bomb that cratered his campaign and has since prevented him from pursuing other political opportunities.

Martin testified that, while the article may have run on news pages, it was clearly an opinion piece based on extensive research.

But under cross-examination, he acknowledged that the line about Progressive Conservatives calling Kent the “Dud Scud” had come from only one source, whose name he couldn’t remember.

“I’d write it differently today,” Martin said.

Martin testified that he left a voice message seeking Kent’s response before the article was published, but the final version had no comment from him.

Postmedia later refused to publish a rebuttal that Kent submitted.

World Press Freedom Day, May 3

World Press Freedom Day, May 3: Canada plummeted ten points in the 2016 World Press Freedom Index, a list that is compiled annually by Reporters Without Borders.

The plunge, which takes our country out of the top ten and into a lackluster spot number 18, is attributable to lack of access to information imposed during “the dark days” of the Harper government. See:

RSF says that worldwide, journalists face increasing violence targeted at the media, state control that threatens democracy, and government misuse of counter-terrorism and counter-espionage laws.

The top ranking for World Press Freedom in 2016 goes to Finland. For Canadian journalists, it’s worth noting this from the April 2016 edition of “This is Finland” by Fran Weaver:

“Finland’s Council for Mass Media chairperson Elina Grundström emphasizes that long-standing Finnish legislation supports the freedom of the press by promoting transparency. “The Act on the Openness of Government Activities means all kinds of official documents are by default publicly available, except for very few documents justifiably designated as secret,” she says.

“…Finnish journalists appreciate this openness – which even extends to the tax payment records of individual citizens – as well as the relative approachability of Finnish politicians and business figures.”

See the full article at:

Australian Press Council 40th Anniversary

The Australian Press Council celebrated its four decades of serving both the public and the news media industry with a major international conference in Sydney between May 4-6.

At 40, the APC is a model for the new National NewsMedia Council of Canada and its assistance in helping set up digital access to the NNC has been much appreciated. The NNC lags behind the APC in convincing digital media to take on responsibility for community standards and ethical journalism, but that picture is beginning to change.

The APC’s president and CEO, Professor David Weisbrot, visited Toronto a few months ago and had extensive consultations with NNC’s president, John Fraser, as the structures of the new NNC were being established. That link has been maintained, although Fraser was unable to attend to the Australian celebration because of conference conflicts in Canada.

World Press Freedom event examines Freedom of Information

UNESCO’s flagship celebration of World Press Freedom Day (3 May) will take place in Helsinki, Finland, this year from 2 to 4 May. The agency says the overarching theme of the celebration is Access to Information and Fundamental Freedoms. The event will focus on Freedom of Information and Sustainable Development, Protecting press freedom from censorship and surveillance overreach, and Ensuring safety of journalists online and offline.

In its news release, UNESCO says “freedom of information is a fundamental freedom and a human right, inherently bound up with the broader right to freedom of expression. It covers the right to seek and receive information, and it complements the right to impart information which is the freedom to make information public via the right to press freedom.

In its dual dimensions of freedom of information and press freedom, freedom of expression is a right of high significance for other rights, as well as for sustainable development. It contributes to the 2030 Development Agenda’s goal (SDG number 16) to: “Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels”. In this way, freedom of expression as a whole is vital to achieving SDG target 16.10: “Public access to information and fundamental freedoms”. This highlights the significance of UNESCO’s new International Day for Access to Information, to be marked each 28 September.

Freedom of information defines the degree of openness and transparency within a society. Any limitations on the access to information side of communications, impact on the imparting side, and vice versa. The two dimensions are essential for the full exercise of the right to free expression.

Freedom of information encompasses in the first instance the right to access information held by public bodies, which is conducive to participatory democracies, sustainable development, and good governance. It allows for public scrutiny, oversight, participation, and empowerment. Currently around 90 countries have adopted freedom of information legislation. A contemporary debate on the wider application of the right so as to gain access to public-interest information held by private sector bodies, for example information about carbon emissions which is vital for monitoring efforts to counter climate change.

Implementation of freedom of information raises issues such as whether the laws are well-known, in terms of high public awareness; whether requests are administered efficiently and whether there are high fees for the requester; and whether information is published by own initiative or released upon request. The gender disaggregation of information, and gender-sensitive application of freedom of information are also significant concerns.

Journalism has a major role to play in actualizing the right to information in the interests of the wider pubic. Another issue is that even in countries where there are freedom of information laws or legal provisions, journalists may have difficulty in accessing, understanding, and subsequently using the raw data or information. In order to make full use of the right to information, journalists need press freedom.”


Coverage violated broadcast codes, but prompt correction respected code requirements: CBSC

Ottawa, April 7, 2016 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning news reports broadcast on CTV Kitchener (CKCO-DT) about a female teacher who had been accused of inappropriate sexual comments towards a 16-year-old male student. The CBSC found that one report contained inaccurate information, but CTV Kitchener had quickly corrected the error and thus respected the requirements of the broadcast codes.

Two reports were broadcast on July 15, 2015 and provided updates on the teacher’s case. The report broadcast during the 6:00 pm newscast informed viewers that the charges had been dropped because there was not enough evidence to go to trial.  The report included information from a court document to which the accused and Crown had agreed, which included excerpts of comments made by the teacher to the student on social media.  The reporter also stated that the judge had ordered the teacher to resign.  CTV Kitchener covered the story again in its 11:30 pm newcast, but the reporter indicated that the teacher had resigned on her own.  The following day, during the July 16 6:00 pm newscast, the anchor acknowledged the error regarding the teacher’s resignation:  she had not been ordered to resign, but rather had done so of her own volition.

The complaint to the CBSC came from the teacher herself. She was concerned about the misinformation regarding her resignation which had been broadcast in the July 15 6:00 pm report.  She was not satisfied that the broadcast had given correct information in a subsequent newscast and had declared its error the following day, as she felt that CTV’s overall coverage of her case had been biased and sensationalized.

The CBSC English-Language Panel examined the complaint under the news provisions of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Code of Ethics and the Radio Television Digital News Association of Canada’s (RTDNA) Code of Ethics.  The Panel concluded that the information regarding the teacher’s resignation was inaccurate and therefore violated Clause 5 of the CAB Code and Article 1 of the RTDNA Code, but CTV Kitchener respected Article 7 of the RTNDA Code which requires errors be corrected quickly.  The Panel found no other problems with the station’s coverage, as it was a newsworthy story and all other details broadcast were factual.

The CBSC was created in 1990 by Canada’s private broadcasters to administer the codes of standards that they established for their industry. The CBSC currently administers 7 codes which deal with ethics, equitable portrayal, violence, news and journalistic independence.  Nearly 900 radio stations, satellite radio services, television stations and specialty and pay television services across Canada participate in the Council.

NNC concerned that court decision will hurt journalism

The National NewsMedia Council is deeply concerned about an Ontario Superior Court decision that forces Vice Media reporter Ben Makuch to hand his background material to the RCMP.

Police want screen captures of Makuch’s online conversations with Farah Shirdon, a Canadian who has been charged in absentia for terrorism-related offenses. The court has now ruled in favour of the RCMP request, saying that the reporter’s material is “important evidence in relation to very serious allegations” and that there is “strong public interest in the effective investigation and prosecution of such allegations”.

The NNC believes there is also strong public interest in a free and independent media. This ruling is not simply a setback for investigative journalism in Canada. It is a chilling precedent. As McKuch’s lawyer says, the credibility and independence of journalists will be undermined by a decision that means conversation with a journalist could easily become information for police.

A free and independent media is a cornerstone of democracy. That freedom and independence is seriously eroded when the courts compel journalists to become unwitting assistants of police investigations.