Members' Update: May 2016

Dear NNC colleague,

Below please find your May edition of the newsletter. We hope you enjoy reading it!

Please contact John Fraser or Pat Perkel if you have any questions, or ideas for the upcoming editions.

Kind regards, John Fraser


Since January of this year, the NNC has dealt with 23 formally filed complaints.

Issues that were brought to the NNC’s attention range from complaints about a misleading photo, factual errors in letters to the editor and opinion pieces, and an offensive editorial cartoon, to factual errors in reporting, bias in reporting, unauthorized use of a photo, compliance with a ban on publication, reporting on sexual assault, stories related to sponsored content, timing of news stories, and disclosing partisan affiliation.

Of the complaints considered by Council, one was upheld, one was dismissed with reservations, one is going to a hearing panel, and the remainder have been dismissed.

Phone calls

Between February 10 and April 28, the Executive Director’s desk tracked 106 phone calls.

The good news is that 42 were related to the NNC’s mandate. These callers had questions about stories and photos that were published, and in some cases about a story the caller thought should be published – a complaint that is beyond the NNC’s remit.

On the other hand, every day brought calls centred on customer service issues:  32 calls about newspaper delivery, seven complaints about the difficulty of making subscription payments, and six about newspaper design or print size.

Other callers requested back issues, long-disappeared comics, daily movie listings, and even lottery numbers, phone numbers, and random addresses. Every caller receives the best response and attention the desk can provide.

Subscription Queries 

John Fraser and Pat Perkel get phone calls every day about troubled subscriptions, undelivered copies of newspapers, inadequately protected newspapers on rainy days, and type size. Complaints come from across the country on just about every sin, including improperly located weather reports and request for comics from a subscriber who was told to laugh more as physiotherapy.

As CEO, John sets aside time each day to deal with calls, including the ones where the caller is convinced the NNC is a sounding board for every possible gripe in the nation. Your staff listen to all complainants, while keeping in mind that council can’t and shouldn’t propose solutions beyond the NNC’s mandate.

“They are a reflection of some of the continuing issues faced by the newsprint industry and it is important for the NNC to be connected to the nitty gritty of the industry,” John said about subscription complaints and why staff go out of the way to offer assistance.

For those who like statistics, between 14 September 2015 and 6 February 2016, there were 182 calls exclusively on subscription or delivery woes. Between Feb 6 and May 2, there have been 117.  After some initial irritation at the volume of calls outlining delivery problems the NNC is incapable of fixing, the strategy of passing along the subscription department numbers has been successful, and John has had phone calls from two newspapers thanking him for his “courteous responses” and Pat for her “helpful advice”, which were reported by the complainants. 


“On my Desk” by John Fraser 

The administration of the new National NewsMedia Council has now been operating since last September, but officially only since mid-November when we were finally incorporated. On January 1st of this year, Pat Perkel signed on as Executive Director. In addition to Pat and myself as CEO, we have had access to some part-time assistance, especially when we get ready for council meetings, or as we try to develop communication strategies for hooking up a national network of council members (more easily said than done, as it turns out).

Essentially, however, we are a two-person operation with easy access to 15 outstanding council members stretched out between Vancouver Island and St. John’s Newfoundland. For the moment, Pat and I like to think of ourselves as a “forest and trees” team: I’m forest and she’s trees. In other words, I am focussing on presenting the NNC to as wide a community as possible, from the principal publications in the country to the smaller regional weeklies.  Other aspects of the assignment include enticing non-members to join, rallying waverers in a world where newspapers are experiencing the greatest challenges in their history, and also representing the new NNC at media gatherings and symposia. On a less cosmic scale, I also have to go after members who are late paying their quarterly statements! I also answer a lot of calls about subscription woes, but more on that elsewhere in this newsletter.

Pat and I both deal with complaints as they come in over the telephone or, more often, via website. It won’t surprise anyone to learn that we get very few formal complaints by post-office mail, although that remains an option and is used still. Pat deals with the practical chores of getting legitimate complaints properly understood and notated for ultimate consideration by council members. We also regularly consult our chair, the Hon. Frances Lankin, and the vice chairs – Miller Ayre in Newfoundland and Shelley Chrest in British Columbia – as well as other council members on our emerging policy initiatives.

So we are still very much a work in progress as the first-ever national media council, and getting our policies into sensible and coherent form is crucial. This consultative process will come to an important juncture at our next council meeting on June 2nd when we will be seeking approval from council members for these working policies. The preparation for all this is almost completed and a number of key council members have been incredibly helpful, especially Shelley Chrest, Tim Shoults, George Thompson and Joanne De Laurentiis.

At the same time, we have to keep trying to expand our base into the magazine world and especially the digital universe. There are special challenges with the digitals. First of all, they expand like topsy, but they also come and go. Some of the most successful are now dealing with the sorts of challenges the “legacy media” has always had to deal with, and I will just cite Vice Media’s problems in protecting and defending their journalist from RCMP demands to turn over his confidential interview records as one example. Vice hasn’t yet signed up to the NNC but we are supporting their fight with other journalistic institutions and it is our educated hope that they will soon become members of the NNC.

As we see it, the digital news media are gradually learning the importance of using the NNC as a standard bearer for ethical journalism. Part of my job is to keep plugging away at this particular rock-face. We can point to practical help lent to digital members, as -- to cite one recent example --we are doing with a fine outfit like Queen’s Park Today which has been having trouble being accepted by the Ontario legislature press gallery. We are close to signing up quite a few of the digitals, but there remain suspicions out there that we are somehow “the enemy”. We are embracing the patience of Job in trying to explain ourselves as allies rather than adversaries.

We have also taken part in joint exercises with the Canadian Journalism Foundation, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, Newspapers Canada and Canadian Journalists for Human Rights and will look to ally ourselves with other organizations that form community with the best in Canadian journalism. Shortly, I will be travelling to Edmonton to take part in Newspapers Canada’s National Conference being held there.

At the heart of our endeavours, however, is a fine council of 15 members, eight of whom are public members and seven from the industry. Our chair is the Hon. Frances Lankin, the former chair of the old Ontario Press Council. She shares supervisory and adjudication responsibility with her two vice-chairs, Shelley Chrest, the former chair of the British Columbia Press Council, and Miller Ayre, the former chair of the Atlantic Canada Press Council. Frances has just been appointed to the Senate of Canada with the small cohort of other independent senators. We are very proud of her and pleased she has agreed to stay on as our chair.  

CEO John Fraser





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.

Read full story here

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.

Read full story here


• The next meeting of NNC board of directors is June 2

• Newspapers Canada National Conference, May 27-28, Edmonton

• Canadian Journalism Foundation gala, June 16, Toronto

• Your NNC chair and CEO will be Steve Paikin's guests on an upcoming episode of The Agenda

• NNC CEO John Fraser and ED Pat Perkel will meet with TVO digital producers May 12