Members' Update: February 2017

Letter from our President and CEO

The headline caught the corner of my eye at the check-out counter of the 24-hour convenience store: “Crooked Hilary will die in jail”. There was a photoshopped picture of the defeated U.S. Democratic presidential candidate looking like a distraught 80-year-old. The subsequent story detailed how her husband, ex-President Bill Clinton, was about to turn states’ evidence against her for corruption in the running of the Clinton Foundation, and…well anyone reading this knows this wasn’t just “fake news”, but actually standard check-out counter fantasyland that has been going on for years.

In the good old days barely a few months ago, the headline might have got a knowing chuckle from the vast majority of check-out customers as they went by and a shake of the head at the gullible dupes who actually took such clearly fabricated stories seriously. I wish I could still be so sure the situation was the same as during “the good old days”, but my confidence isn’t as secure as it used to be.

“Fake news” is a buzzy term in our profession today thanks to the overwhelming preponderance of coverage of the American political circus ushered in and presided over by Donald Trump. The lead non-fake-news article in the New York Times today at the time of writing, for example, is: “Trump Campaign Aides Had Repeated Contacts With Russian Intelligence”, and so one’s lifetime of effort to subdue conspiracy theories and dismiss ridiculous tales suddenly feels challenged.

It is clearly also a challenge to sojourn in the news media world generally these days. The mainstream business itself remains in steady economic turmoil, while the emerging digital universe has lots of ambition and hope on its side, but possibly only marginally more reason for faith in its particular future. None of this universe was much assuaged by the Public Policy Forum’s release of “The Shattered Mirror: News, Democracy and Trust in the Digital Age”, the massive report commissioned by the federal government on the state of the media (there is a link to the document on the NNC website). The NNC even made a brief appearance in Recommendation Six. The recommendation was for a provision to provide pre-publication legal advice for emerging digital news media platforms provided they had initially joined up with our organization, singled out for our as “a national forum for complaints from the public”. 

It is not yet clear which of the recommendations the government might favour, if any, but the one thing that seems abundantly obvious to us at the NNC is we have to keep recruiting new members from the digital world (see a list of new members below) and continue to reach out to all our current members to avail themselves of our services which are not just about receiving complaints.  We have a dynamic council of 15 members spread across the country, all of whom have experience of one sort of another that feeds into their representation. In addition to dispute resolution, we can provide advice or even practical assistance on ethical issues in journalism, on some tricky legal situations like plagiarism and copyright, on aboriginal reportage, and – heaven help us – we can even advise on “fake news”.

In the end, there is no real mystery about fake news. Standard good journalistic practice, which is what we try to support and defend at the NNC, insists that there be sources for all statements of fact in news stories. No exceptions. So the NNC is an ally against fake news, but so also is ordinary common sense. In this way, the NNC is a comprehensive adjunct to responsible news media enterprises and equally responsible readers. We believe that in a dynamic alliance with providers and consumers, we are an important partner and a sturdy bulwark not just against fake news, but also for the whole concept fair and responsible journalistic reporting. It’s actually the very thing that will get us safely through the news turmoil of the next few years. 

- John Fraser


We welcome new members of the National NewsMedia Council which have recently signed on. We are updating our web site so that all individual members are noted, whether are part of a larger group or not, along with Internet websites, so stay tuned:

• Burlington Gazette

• Queen’s Park Today

• Metro Ottawa

• Metro Toronto

• Metro Edmonton

• Metro Vancouver

• Epoch Times Toronto

• Epoch Times Ottawa

• Epoch Times Edmonton & Calgary

• Epoch Times Vancouver

• Musical Toronto


Complaints Report

Decisions posted on the NNC website are an important but small part of the NNC’s work in handling questions about journalistic standards. 

Between October 2016 and January 2017, NNC staff received 18 written complaints and approximately 365 phone calls involving community and daily papers across the country.

The nature of phone inquiries varied widely, but ran the gamut from offering news tips to complaints about changes to sports coverage. A large minority of the calls were customer service issues related to delivery or subscription issues.

Many of the written complaints originated in lack of understanding about how the news media works.  

Complainants were unaware, for example, that their names and charges can be printed as part of standard police and court reporting, or that pictures and comments on public Facebook pages are indeed public.

In a number of cases, complainants wanted lengthy articles or letters to the editor the news printed. The NNC explained the news media’s prerogative to determine editorial content, which includes the right to select and edit letters. Likewise, not all the material gathered in interviews will appear in a final story, and that fact does not amount to bias. These and other examples provided opportunity to educate on an individual basis about the role of the media, journalism practices, and the value of informed and engaged readers.

In one case a complainant alleged unflattering comments reported about him were unfounded, and in another the complainant believed the news media failed to follow guidelines on publishing studies. In the first case, the journalist used interviews and published letters as sources, while the second case involved a traffic survey, not a scientific study that would require peer review. In both cases, the news media organizations followed standard journalistic practice.

One complaint handled during this period was found to be an error, which was resolved due to corrective action by the news media organization.

In two cases, complaints were declined. One was from a repeat complainant on the issue of vaccinations, while the other was about a paper that is not an NNC member. 

- Patricia Perkel, Executive Director and Complaints Co-Ordinator


37 Front Street File: Newspapers Canada feels 'Trump-lite' blow back (and more!)

There are a few rare moments every now and again when, in the course of our daily business, associations unexpectedly become 'the news'. This happened to our humble office partners, Newspapers Canada, earlier this month.

For this year's Canadian Community Newspaper Awards competition, the Flin Flon Reminder submitted for adjudication a heart-warming story about a Syrian family's adjustment to their new lives in Canada.

For some reason, the competition entry fee was flagged as a 'suspicious transaction' by Paypal.

It was a dumbfounding turn of events that got picked up by The Canadian Press - and subsequently went viral. You can read about it all here.

That's not all the news happening lately at 37 Front Street East. Newspapers Canada has officially changed its name to News Media Canada. Keep an eye on their website for updates to their corporate livery in the coming weeks. 


The NNC held its first annual general meeting on December 8, 2016, and this was followed up by its first quarterly board meeting on February 2 of this year.

Although there were no controversial issues, apart from the general concern about the general state of the industry, it was noted that the NNC’s first full year of operations had exceeded expectations. Complaints are being dealt with in record-breaking time, the educational mandate has started to take off, and the hard work of convincing the emerging digital news media platforms has started to produce results (see below). I'm also very happy to report that the NNC is solvent, keeps its operating costs low and is wonderfully supported by its membership. 

I am also thrilled by the work being done by our intrepid staff, who have identified dozens of community newspapers not previously on our docket. We have been actively involved in reaching out to these outlets over the last two weeks, through telephone and email. We hope to have some encouraging news to report to you on this front in our next newsletter.

The Council's next meeting will be held on June 15 at noon EST via conference call. Please mark your calendars.

And, now, as they saying goes: 'back to your regularly scheduled programming.'


Building Bridges

At the end of January, NNC President and CEO John Fraser and I took our 'show on the road', for a short, but intense, two-day whirlwind consultation tour in Ottawa.

Our first day in the capital began with a two-hour breakfast outreach event we hosted at the National Press Building on Parliament Hill. We were up at the crack of dawn to pick up vats of coffee, tea, and baked goods from Ottawa's famous chain of Bridgehead Coffeehouses and carried them all in sub-zero (Fahrenheit!) temperatures. Not an early morning activity for the faint of heart! 

Our second meeting that day was a wonderful luncheon event with members of iPoliticsThe Tyee, and The Hill Times. We pitched all three on the virtues of membership in the NNC and received constructive feedback on how our humble association can tailor our mandate to help make a meaningful impact in the ever-evolving Canadian media landscape. A resounding success! 

Our third meeting of the day was with the Community Foundations of Ottawa, to discuss a long-dormant endowment made to the Ontario Press Council, on behalf of former journalist Fraser MacDougall. The NNC is examining the best way to get this award up and running again - so stay tuned for more news in the months to come.

Our second day in Ottawa was ever busier than our first. We had scheduled four (4!) meetings for the morning and afternoon that day. We met with the department head of Carleton University's School of Journalism and Communication; the editor-in-chief of The Charlatan, Carleton's campus newspaper; and two of the Press Gallery's premiere freelance writers about future projects we are working on. Needless to say, by the end of these two days, we had both seen plenty enough of coffee and tea for a little while. 

If you have suggestions on directions you think we should take on our ‘road ahead’, or partnerships you think would be interesting to form, please don’t hesitate to send me an email to:  

- Brent Jolly, Director of Communications and Community Manager


In other news...

The NNC recently received a 'shout-out' in the Public Policy Forum's recent report, entitled The Shattered Mirror

We are found in Recommendation 6(b):

“This legal advisory service would be available only to organizations that qualify under the new Section 19 provisions, and are members of the National NewsMedia Council, created from the 2015 amalgamation of provincial press councils with a mission to promote ethical practices within the news media and to serve as a national forum for complaints from the public.”

See the full report here


Information update

We've updated the NNC information that promotes your membership and lets readers know how to get in touch with us. Here it is for your use:

{Your news organization) is a member of the National NewsMedia Council, a voluntary self-regulatory organization that deals with journalistic practices and ethical behaviour. If you have an unresolved complaint about news stories, opinion columns or photos, please visit our web site at or call 1-844-877-1163. If you have a complaint about delivery or subscription problems, please contact the paper’s business office.

We would appreciate if you included our organization's logo either in your printed publication or on your website. A high-resolution version can be downloaded on our website.       

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