Reader objected to newspaper’s endorsement of candidate

Reader objected to newspaper’s endorsement of candidate

A complaint to the National NewsMedia Council during the recent federal election campaign questioned a news organization’s right to endorse a political candidate.

The complainant insisted that Postmedia’s endorsement of Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer demonstrated bias, and was an unethical attempt to influence the electorate.

The complainant noted that the newspaper’s editorial listed concerns with Liberal party policy and leadership, and explained its reasons for supporting Scheer and the Conservative Party.  However, the complainant argued that editorial endorsement amounts to the media’s attempt to manipulate facts and electoral outcomes.

The NNC rejected that view, and supported the widely-accepted journalistic standard of allowing editorials and opinion pieces that express unpopular or partisan views.

The NewsMedia Council responded to the complainant by stating that news organizations have the prerogative to take an editorial stand, and that many have been clear in their support for one party or another.

In fact, many newspapers in Canada were established for the purpose of influencing the electorate, whether on the Confederation question in the 1800s, or since then to promote a more conservative or more liberal point of view.

A news organization’s prerogative to publish clearly identified editorial and opinion articles that express differing points of view facilitates important public dialogue in a democratic society. This widely-accepted standard is balanced by the equally widely-accepted standard that news articles will be objective, regardless of the organization’s editorial stand.

There is no compulsion on the reading public to act on a newspaper’s editorial view or opinion piece. The public may be convinced by an opinion article or not, but in either case examining the issues from a stated perspective is the job of opinion journalism and analysis.

In this case, the news media organization followed best practices by providing a clear and appropriate label for the editorial article and by placing it in the opinion section. The NewsMedia Council found no breach of journalistic standards, and no grounds for a complaint.

‘Who are you calling dumb?’

Following the federal election, the National NewsMedia Council received a complaint about a reprinted opinion article that referred to Western separation as a “dumb” idea.

The complainant stated that the article failed to provide reasons that Western Canada is unhappy, and objected to their being described as “dumb” for wanting to separate from a federal relationship that he argued isn’t working.

The NewsMedia Council responded to the complaint by stating as a general principle that opinion articles are allowed to express unpopular or partisan views. It noted that providing strongly stated, even sometimes unpopular opinions, can facilitate public dialogue on important issues.

In this case, the NNC pointed out that the columnist did not direct qualifiers, such as ‘dumb’, to the residents of Alberta. A thorough reading of the article revealed that the columnist’s comments were directed to the limitations of Alberta separating from Canada, and outlined his reasons to deem separation as one of the ‘dumbest’ notions.

For this reason, the NewsMedia Council found no breach of journalistic practice or ethics and no grounds for a complaint.

Are you equipped to decipher today’s ‘information disorder’?

The NNC has been discouraging the term ‘fake news’ for a long time now. Still, it’s difficult to push back against an easy term that has come to mean everything from an honest mistake, to the other guys’ opinion, to a fact that undercuts your preferred point of view.

Most dangerously, the term denigrates and strips away the important work journalists do.

The more accurate terms are misinformation, disinformation and mal-information. Over the past handful of years, a number of news literacy and journalism groups have been working to better define these terms and to describe how they work to manipulate or obscure facts.

FirstDraft recently updated its review of what it calls “information disorder” with a straightforward guide on breaking down misinformation.

A few key points to apply as journalists and news consumers:

  • Use proper terminology. If there is an intent to mislead or manipulate, call it propaganda, a lie, conspiracy, a hoax, partisan content, manipulation, or polemic
  • If it’s lazy, sloppy reporting that lacks accountability, the right label might be rumour or clickbait
  • Misinformation might be more simply described as honest error, ranging from a typo to a mistake in a photo caption or fact

The NNC’s view is that a key way to fight the ‘fake news’ label is with accountable, credible journalism. One part of that is a commitment to find, acknowledge and correct any error as soon and as transparently as possible.

The NNC cited in the newly-launched Local Journalism Initiative

The Local Journalism Initiative, a program to help Canadian media organizations hire reporters to cover civic institutions and local news in under-served communities, is open for applications. Membership in the NNC is cited as one of the identifiers for news publications applying for the program.

The program is being administered by News Media Canada, which is the publisher’s trade association.

 As a self-regulatory journalistic standards organization, the National NewsMedia Council is not affiliated with the Local Journalism Initiative, but is aware of financial stresses facing the news industry and that the LJI program may be of interest to members.

As always, the NNC supports the public’s right to know and to hold public institutions, such as governments, courts, regional councils, and school boards, to account. It also recognizes the value of local journalism in doing that job.

Created by the Government of Canada, the Local Journalism Initiative is a five-year program that supports original civic journalism relevant to the diverse needs of people living in so-called news deserts and areas of news poverty. Existing Canadian-owned English, French, and Indigenous print and digital news media organizations are eligible to apply. The deadline to apply for this program is November 15, 2019.

News Media Canada says the program intends to provide funding for a minimum of 93 LJI reporters on contracts with terms of up to 15 months. Their stories will help citizens know what is going on where they live and will be shared with accredited media organizations across the country.

Young journalist from Carleton University wins 2019 Fraser MacDougall Prize

The National NewsMedia Council and Journalists for Human Rights are pleased to announce that Olivia Robinson, a master’s student in the journalism program at Carleton University, has been awarded the 2019 Fraser MacDougall Prize for Best New Canadian Voice in Human Rights Reporting.

Robinson won this year’s award for her submission ‘Raising a stink about public washrooms in Ottawa: Why you should care about toilet privilege’ which was published in the online-only publication Capital Current.

This year’s jury was impressed by the depth of the story’s reportage on a unique topic. Jury members also noted the story’s impact. Shortly after the article was posted, Ottawans began asking their local councillors on social media to add more public washrooms across Ottawa’s new light-rail transit system.

“I’m still dismayed by the number of people who are unable to attend to their basic sanitary needs because public washroom access is so scarce,” says Robinson. “This story brought to the foreground how hard some advocacy groups in Ottawa are working to raise awareness about the barriers in accessing public washrooms in this city. Washroom access should not be a privilege — it’s a human right.”

The Fraser MacDougall Award for Best New Canadian Voice in Human Rights Reporting is an annual prize that recognizes an exceptional piece of human rights-focused journalism published in campus-based media. In addition to the $1,000 cash prize, winners are recognized for their achievement at the annual Journalists for Human Rights Gala.

The MacDougall Prize is made possible through the generous endowment of the late Fraser MacDougall, who had a distinguished career in journalism, chiefly with the Canadian Press. As well, MacDougall was the first executive secretary of the Ontario Press Council.

About us: 

The National NewsMedia Council

The National NewsMedia Council is a voluntary, self-regulatory body of the news media industry in Canada. It was established in 2015 with three aims: to promote ethical practices within the news media industry, to serve as a forum for complaints against its members, and to promote a news literate public.

The Council represents the public and the media in matters concerning the democratic rights of freedom of speech and freedom of the media.

Journalists for Human Rights

Journalists for Human Rights is Canada’s leading media development organization. We train journalists to report on human rights and governance issues in their communities. When the media puts a spotlight on human rights, people start talking about the issues and demanding change. A strong, independent media is a referee between governments and citizens. When human rights are protected, governments are more accountable and people’s lives improve.

Olivia Robinson is a writer, journalist and book publishing professional originally from Aurora, Ontario. She holds a Master of Arts in Writing for Children from the University of Winchester and a Master of Journalism from Carleton Unviersity. She was a 2019 Joan Donaldson Scholar with CBC News and the 2019 Jack Layton Journalism for Change Fellow with rabble, penning a six-part series about the future of public libraries in Canada. She is currently an associate producer with CBC Radio’s Ottawa Morning. Follow her on Twitter @olivianne.

For more information about the award, please contact: 

Brent Jolly, Director of Communications, Research, and Community Management, National NewsMediaCouncil, 416-340-1981 x 3 or

A short note from the National NewsMedia Council

Dear Readers,

Over the past few days, the National NewsMedia Council (NNC) has received complaints about an op-ed published in the Vancouver Sun and the Province this past weekend under the headline: ‘Ethnic diversity harms a country’s social trust, economic well-being, professor argues.’

As you are aware, the NNC is a voluntary, self-regulatory body that deals with complaints about news and opinion reporting published by our member newspapers and digital news organizations in Canada. The Vancouver Sun and the Province, as Postmedia titles, are among our founding members.

As a mission, the NNC promotes widely accepted journalistic standards, including accuracy, context, and the opportunity to respond to allegations and harmful statements.

Our process requests that complainants and the news organization take the opportunity to resolve the issue at the local level, and proceed to the NNC if no resolution is found.

In this case, we note that the Vancouver Sun and the Province promptly removed the op-ed in question from their website. The NNC notes that the so-called ‘unpublishing’ of any content is a rare step that is generally reserved for serious cases.

We also note the publication’s editor-in-chief has written an apology to readers, and the news organization published another op-ed that strongly refutes the original opinion column.

These are strong measures on the part of the news organization. They are consistent with remedies the NNC would recommend or find appropriate.

The fact that the Vancouver Sun and the Province has taken these steps voluntarily, and in a timely manner is, in our view, a show of good faith in remedying a lapse in the news organization’s normal adherence to journalistic standards.

Best regards,

The NationalNews Media Council administration

Competition for third annual Fraser MacDougall Prize now open

The National NewsMedia Council, in partnership with Journalists for Human Rights, is pleased to announce the opening of the third annual Fraser MacDougall Prize for Best New Canadian Voice in Human Rights Reporting.

The prize is awarded to an exceptional piece of journalism with a human rights focus that is published in campus-based media during the past academic year.

Winners (typically, the story’s writer and editor) receive a cash prize of $1,000 and are recognized for their achievements at the annual Journalists for Human Rights Gala, held in Toronto. Previous award winners of the Fraser MacDougall Prize have gone to young journalists from The Varsity and The Queen’s Journal.

This award is made possible by a generous endowment to the National NewsMedia Council by the family of the late Fraser MacDougall, who had a distinguished career in journalism, chiefly with the The Canadian Press. Later in life, he was the first executive secretary of the former Ontario Press Council.

This year’s competition will open on July 2, 2019. Submissions will be accepted until August 13, 2019 at 23:59 EST.

To apply, your application must include:

  • A copy of the story, in either print or digital format
  • The names of the principle writer and editor who worked on the story
  • A one page note to jury members that contains information on:
    • What kind of human rights issue was addressed
    • Why this story was important to its readers/community
    • Why changes, if any, came because of the story’s publication
    • Any other information about the editorial process you think is worthy of consideration by judges

Queries about the award can be directed to Brent Jolly, the NNC’s director of community management. He can be reached at:

Ryerson University and the NNC release new report: Good News, Bad News: A snapshot of conditions at small-market newspapers in Canada

TORONTO, April 29, 2019 – Ryerson University’s Local News Research Project, in partnership with the National NewsMedia Council of Canada (NNC), is pleased to announce the publication of its new report: Good News, Bad News: A snapshot of conditions at small-market newspapers in Canada.

The report’s findings provide invaluable insight into questions about workload, audience engagement, the use of digital tools, and journalistic ethics and standards for print publications with a daily/weekly circulation below 50,000 copies.

Some of the report’s key findings include:

The Good:

  • The survey provides strong anecdotal evidence that highlights how local newspapers have a special place in Canadians’ news diets.
  • More than one-third of respondents said their publication had launched an editorial campaign on an issue that is important to their community.
  • Many respondents see the role of ‘audience engagement’ as an important way to foster conversations with readers and play an active role in civic and local debates.
  • Respondents overwhelmingly said their publications are a trusted source of information in their communities.
  • Survey results point to a willingness of community newspapers to embrace digital tools: About three-quarters of survey respondents said they now spend more time on digital-related output than they did two years ago.

The Bad:

  • Smaller newsrooms: Fifty-seven per cent of survey respondents said there are fewer people in their newsrooms now than in 2016.
  • A work culture that is demanding more of its workforce: About one-third of journalists said they are producing more stories and working longer hours compared to two years ago.
  • A split between employees who feel secure in their jobs and others who are concerned about job security: More than one-third of respondents said they felt slightly or very insecure in their positions, while nearly half said they felt very secure of slightly secure.
  • Small-market newspapers, like their bigger city counterparts, are grappling with intense competition from non-local digital platforms and publications for audiences and advertisers.
  • Limited employer-sponsored ethics training: Most respondents said they learn about journalism ethics and best practice from fellow journalists and from published articles. Only about one-third cited employer-sponsored resource guides or ethics training courses.

“These results paint a picture of what’s happening in small-market newsrooms at a time of major disruption,” says April Lindgren, a professor at Ryerson’s School of Journalism and lead investigator for the Local News Research Project (LNRP). Data from the LNRP’s Local News Map, which tracks changes to the local news landscape across Canada, show that 199 of the 275 local news outlet that have closed since 2008 have been community newspapers published fewer than five times per week.

“Smaller newspapers face major challenges but the survey also reveals that publications know they are making a unique contribution to communities by focusing on local stories that nobody else is telling.”

For its part in this project, the National NewsMedia Council sought to learn more about how journalists in small-market newsrooms kept abreast of editorial standards and ethical decision-making in an increasingly digital world.

“Editorial standards and ethics act as the foundations for good journalism – and good journalism is an essential piece of a community’s civic architecture,” says Brent Jolly, director of communication, research, and community management with the NNC.

“This study demonstrates that, on a whole, community newspapers are doing good work in building trust with their readers.”

A full copy of the report can be accessed here.

Ryerson University is Canada’s leader in innovative, career-oriented education. It is an Academic Member of the National NewsMedia Council.




April Lindgren

Professor, Principal investigator for the Local News Research Project

Ryerson University Tel: 647 281 8847


Brent Jolly

Director, Communications, Research, and Community Management

National NewsMedia Council of Canada

Tel: 289-387-3179