Members' Update: Spring 2019

Note from our Executive Chair 

An annual general meeting for any organization is usually a time for summing up, accounting and looking forward. Sometimes it’s also a great time for making excuses. Our recent annual meeting at the National NewsMedia Council went off smoothly. I didn’t have to make any excuses and, for the most part, had only good news: revenues holding steady, new members, innovative initiatives, and a plentiful number of complaints handled efficiently.

For an organization not yet fully five years old, which came into being as a successor to five struggling regional press councils dealing with huge challenges in the newspaper industry, I think we are entitled to feel quietly very pleased with where we now find ourselves. Heaven knows, it’s not an excuse for smug satisfaction. Our business – from mediating disputes and correcting errors to patiently explaining to the public that newspaper columnists have a right to strong opinions providing they, like all journalists, abide by accepted journalistic standards of fact and fair comment – continues to exist in a troubled and challenging universe. That’s part of the reason the AGM felt so positive: we feel we are making a difference in an inhospitable climate.

If the various components of the NNC seem in good working order, part of the reason is rooted in something bigger than our small organization, efficient as our staff and dedicated as our directors are. That “reason” has a lot to do with the general public’s need to have confidence in its sources of news. This isn’t because of the “fake news” syndrome, although accusations of fake news – fair or otherwise, and in my view it is mostly otherwise - are caught up in the business.

What I am struggling to identify here is a certain elemental, almost metaphysical, realm of unreality that we all live in these days when the bombardment of information has become relentless, almost hounding us into either numbness or a total retreat from all news sources. Unfortunately, neither numbness nor retreat is going to diminish the problem. The antidote is obvious, if not particularly glamorous. By choosing known reliable news sources, regarding everything we read with common sense, counting on organizations like the NNC to be honourable and completely above board: these are tangible means to retain faith in our news messengers.

At the NNC, we are regularly pulled in different directions. Some well-intentioned observers would actually like us to be a punishment machine for errant journalists, to be a species of public shaming. That one is easily resolved: we champion news accuracy, not reportorial demonization. In that way, we hope to earn and deserve the trust of both journalists and the public. And, actually, we wouldn’t know how to operate in any other way.

By the same token, organizations or institutions that want to piggyback on our humble but undeniable integrity – whether it is vast internet facilitators or even laudable government and industry efforts to assist newspapers and digital news platforms - will have to get along without us. As first announced in 2015, we remain committed to our goals as a voluntary, self-regulatory ethics body for the news industry in Canada with two main aims: “to serve as a forum for complaints against its members and to promote ethical practices within the new media industry”.

So the good news from the NNC at its June AGM is that despite continuing stormy weather we are on course and under full sails. If you don’t like metaphors, despite the return of the boating season, how about just this: “So far, so good.”

- John Fraser


We welcome new members of the National NewsMedia Council who have recently signed on. 

Digital-only Publications:

• Madawaska Valley Current


Looking Back on Where We've Been 

As reported by our Executive Chair, the 2019 version of the NewsMedia Council AGM is now history.

From a staff point of view, we take satisfaction in being able to report that the NNC’s ‘corporate house’ continues to be in good order, as are the organization’s finances. We’re grateful for the support of members and the guidance of Directors in attaining and sustaining this positive state of affairs.

The smooth operation of the NNC’s corporate and financial structure is important in that it better allows staff and directors to focus on our core mandate, which is to resolve complaints and uphold journalistic standards.

We are mindful that the NNC’s mandate is double-edged: it deals with complaints from people who feel wronged by the media, and at the same time helps explain the role and prerogative of journalism in a democratic county. The latter is a rewarding task, frequently allowing us to “see the light go on” as a caller or complainant comes to understand the difference between editorial comment and news, or between news and sponsored content. In this and in all its work, the NNC encourages the public to understand Canada’s Charter-protected freedom of the media, and encourages members to adhere to the highest journalistic and ethical standards.

In order to be conversant with those standards, NNC staff take every feasible opportunity to engage in professional development. As we reported to the AGM, within our financial and staff limitations we attended conferences including CUP and CAJ, take part in symposiums, and read materials that keep us current on emerging issues, aware of international and best practices, and up to date on developments in areas including reporting on youth in care, sexual violence and minority issues. The intent always is to ensure that the NNC offers a made-in-Canada approach that is consistent with industry practice and best serves the needs of members.

The AGM was also an opportunity to review the volume and scope of complaints heard in the last year. We provided members with a snapshot of the 85 complaints considered since the previous AGM. That quick overview illustrated that the NNC has fielded complaints involving members across the country, from large dailies to community papers, wire service and online news organizations.

The summary also clearly indicates that many complaints submitted involved no breach of journalistic standards. Regardless, the NNC’s focus is to be transparent, accountable and well-grounded in journalistic standards, whether explaining how journalism and freedom of expression works, mediating a resolution or reaching a decision on a complaint.

As a matter of interest, the number of complaints with no prima facie breach of standards, the number resolved by staff, and the number referred to Council for a decision are in line with recent complaint figures released by the Irish Press Council.

Looking at trends in the nature of complaints year over year, we saw fewer complaints from those alleging “fake news” about facts or views the complainant didn’t support. Inaccuracy remains a frequent source of complaint, followed by insensitivity and bias related to lack of opportunity to respond.

Another 80-plus complaints filed since the previous AGM were, on examination, not within the NNC mandate, or concerned non-members. To our view, these inquiries indicate an ongoing public interest in having a means to address concerns and perceived mistakes. Voluntary complaints resolution builds trust. More importantly, it demonstrates the integrity of members who have signed on with the NNC to be accountable for the quality journalism they work hard to produce every day.

Credit for the past year’s growth in membership and member benefit is due in considerable measure to the Board’s support of administrative restructuring in 2018. Those steps allow NNC staff to apply resources in a carefully focused, results-oriented manner. The streamlined administration, combined with a continued focus on reaching well-considered decisions, has strengthened the NNC’s reputation and positions it well to pursue the core mandate of serving members and the public.

 - Pat Perkel, Executive Director


The Complaints Desk:

 By the Numbers

By the numbers: Since the last newsletter, the NewsMedia Council has opened 29 new complaint files. Of those, 12 cited no prima facie breach of journalistic standards and were declined, 5 were dismissed, 4 were resolved, 2 were abandoned and 6 remain in progress.

In the same period, the NewsMedia Council fielded 19 complaints that it did not accept. Five were about broadcast news media, four were about foreign media, and the remainder were about issues outside the NNC mandate.

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The Beat Goes On at 
the Manitoulin Expositor

As the print product of the Manitoulin Expositor enters its 140th year, the family-owned publication attributes continued success to their loyal readership. 

Want to read Cara Sabatini's full profile of the Expositor? Just head over to our Medium page by clicking here


37 Front Street File: Our Story

In the autumn of 1968, Don Hewitt, a visionary news editor and producer, pioneered the creation of renowned television news magazine 60 Minutes. In a time when television was seen as the medium of ‘disruption’, long before the internet, his recipe for success in journalism was so straightforward and unpretentious that it consisted of only four simple words: ‘Tell me a story’.

Although born only in 2015, following the amalgamation of the provincial press councils from Atlantic Canada, Ontario, and British Columbia, the origin story of the National NewsMedia Council (NNC) began, in earnest, in the late 1960s.

According to media historian David Pritchard, press councils were initially conceived to serve two functions. The first was to act as a forum for industry self-regulation when confronted with proposals for increased government regulation of the press; the second was to “discipline the news media” because of the finding that sensational media coverage of crimes tended to prejudice defendants’ rights to a fair trial. The first press council in Canada was founded in Windsor, Ontario, in the early 1970s.

What is remarkable to this story, however, is how the Canadian and American experience with press councils has differed over the last five decades – and what that could mean in terms of stemming the tide of the spread of misinformation, and rebuilding public trust in media.

Unlike in the United States, Canada’s media culture has legitimized media councils as an accepted institution.

Consider the evidence: in the United States, the National News Council was created in 1973 but ceased operations after little more than a decade.

Today, by contrast, the NNC has about 700 members, drawn from across a diverse spectrum of publishing platforms: from large national daily newspapers, to local community newspapers, periodicals, and digital-only titles.

Over the past two years, we’ve continued to expand our reach by partnering with post-secondary institutions to promote a better understanding of the importance of ethics and standards in journalism.

Consider some of our recent (and ongoing) projects:

• Published a study on local news, in partnership with Ryerson University

• Provided training and advice to all members of the Canadian University Press

• Restarted the Fraser MacDougall Award for young journalists  

• Made multiple presentations to journalism schools on issues involving journalism ethics and standards

I think the best way to describe the NNC after nearly four years in existence is as a kind of ‘legacy start-up’. Even though the Canadian media landscape continues to evolve at breakneck speed, the principles that have guided the journalistic craft have evolved under careful consideration.

To date, this has meant addressing many highly-charged issues including: climate change, and the ongoing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, children in care, and many others. 

The NNC has acted as a public forum where members of the public have been able to voice their concerns and to have them mediated against the backdrop of facts and a cascading system of accepted industry newsgathering standards.

We think that’s a pretty great story – and we’re happy to share it with you.

- Brent Jolly, Director of Communication and Community Manager


National NewsMedia Council
Welcomes New Public Director

The NNC would like to welcome Anita Vergis, a B.C.-based lawyer and a mediator, as its newest public director. Vergis replaces director Shelley Chrest, who was a founding director with the NNC, its interim chair from 2016-2017, and former chair of the B.C. Press Council.  

Vergis currently practices in the area of class action/mass tort law. To date, she has mediated in excess of 3500 disputes. Most recently Vergis has worked on the RCMP gender and/or sexual orientation based harassment and the Sixties Scoop class actions.

We'd like to thank Ms. Chrest for her incredible enthusiasm for the NNC's work.


Meet Cheryl Palmer:
Calm, Cool, and Always Collected

Image credit: Tim Finlan, Toronto Star

NNC public director 

Cheryl Palmer walks four kilometers to work and another four kilometers home most days of the week.

As an Anglican rector, her office is a grey-stoned church in Toronto’s Deer Park neighbourhood, a century-old building often sought out by choirs and musicians for its pleasant acoustics.

Sitting at a small café in the below-ground mall at Yonge and St Clair, the Reverend Canon Palmer tells me that she aims to walk a total of 12 km every day.

“When I’m walking—most often I walk alone—I write letters, I get conversations started, I think through something,” said Palmer about her commute to Christ Church Deer Park.

Sometimes the church rector also listens to podcasts. “I like crime drama,” she tells me. “It’s how the story is told.”

Originally from Kingston, Jamaica, Palmer and her family moved to Hamilton, Ont., when she was 17.

Even then, Palmer knew she wanted to have a role in the church. “It was always a place that I loved,” she said. “Every adult there was another possible parent or grandparent.”

Palmer explained, “I always thought, ‘I want to work here,’ but I had no idea what that would look like because there was no such thing as a female priest when I was growing up.”

“So for ten minutes or so, I thought, ‘Well, I’ll be a nun,’” she laughed, emphasizing, “It was only for ten minutes.”

It wasn’t until Palmer came to Canada that the option of studying theology and being ordained became available to her.

Palmer has held many roles serving the Toronto community over the years, including being a public director for the National NewsMedia Council.

Before becoming rector at Christ Church, Palmer was responsible for the cemetery and crematorium at St. John’s-Norway in Toronto’s East End. And before that, she ran St. Clement’s-Eglinton, a thriving North Toronto parish at the intersection of some of the city’s most affluent neighbourhoods.

As rector at Christ Church, Palmer is no stranger to the power of storytelling.

Ask her what her theological understanding of pain is, and she’ll tell you that’s boring. But ask her to tell you a story about faith in the face of suffering, and she’ll launch right into one.

It was her five years as chaplain at the Hospital for Sick Children that made a major impact on her work. “Unbelievable work is done there,” said Palmer.

During her time at Sick Kids, Palmer would often sit with parents of sick children who would tell her how much they wished they could change places with their kids instead of having to watch them suffer.

But, of course, that’s not possible, says Palmer.

She explained, “The reality is, those parents suffered alongside their children. My role was to accompany both parents and children along a difficult journey. And what was so amazing, was that the families allowed me to walk with them.”

“I always felt I was on holy ground while pastoring families at Sick Kids.”

While telling stories plays an important role in her work as rector, listening to other people’s stories is a big part of her day-to-day—whether it’s solving human resources matters in the church or engaging with her parishioners.

As a spiritual leader—a title she accepts but is not fond of—her role is “to encourage and support people in their spiritual lives and spiritual growth.” Often, this means listening to people’s problems.

Palmer sees the parallels in her work with the NNC: listening to people’s stories is an essential part of resolving complaints.

“People invest in certain ways of thinking and in their belief system,” said Palmer, “and if somehow they feel it is either under attack or being poked at in any way, shape or form, they want that rectified.”

Palmer sees her role with the NNC as listening to parties’ perspectives “with more than just a dispassionate ear” in a similar way she would treat concerns from her parishioners.

“When I’m dealing with people in my community, and they are upset out about something, the result of my decision needs to be dispassionate, but I need to interact with them in a caring way.”

She added, “There are a lot of people who just want to be heard, and we have the obligation—we who are in these positions—to listen.”

For Palmer, the parallels between her roles don’t end there. She notes that both journalism and the church have struggled to attract new generations of followers.

“In the same way younger people aren’t getting subscriptions to newspapers, they’re not subscribing to the church either,” said Palmer, letting out a loud laugh.

She’s not sure how to change that, but is sure about one thing: “I think we need to change how we do things, but I think the substance of what we’re about needs to hold firm.”

As we walk the quarter kilometer to her office and enter the nave of the church, we hear the instrumental notes of a small group of musicians, mid-practice.

“We often rent out the space to different musical groups,” she tells me, as the music crescendos to the rafters.

It’s a lovely space, and she gives me a quick tour before she must return to her work. Budget planning and human resources, she explained. And, of course, preparing for the next service.

I think back to what she said at the café.

“If I say something stupid on Sunday, only those people who are at church are going to hear it—and they probably won’t repeat it,” said Palmer with a chuckle. “But when a mainline journalist says something that is wrong, it takes on a life of its own.”

That’s why responsible journalism is so important, she said. “You want people to be properly informed.”

- Cara Sabatini is the NNC's Research and Academic Co-ordinator


Your Unofficial Journalism Summer Reading List


Information update

We have short NNC information blurbs to promote your membership and let readers know how to get in touch with us. Please include one, along with our organization's logo either in your printed publication and website. A high-resolution version can be downloaded on our website.       

{Your news organization) is a member of the National NewsMedia Council, which deals with complaints about news stories, opinion columns or photos. See the NNC website at or call 1-844-877-1163 for more information.


Have a complaint about news, opinion, or photos? See the National NewsMedia Council website at or call 1-844-877-1163 for information.

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