Illustration courtesy of Eric Mark Do
Clarification: The proposal for the national press council comes from the provincial press councils led by the Ontario Press Council. Newspapers Canada revealed the proposal online and is soliciting feedback from its members on behalf of the press councils.
By Tamara Baluja, Associate Editor
Newspapers Canada is soliciting feedback from its members on a proposal for a national press council to be launched in 2015.
The proposed council would hear unresolved complaints about the adherence to standards of ethical journalism and reporting by print and online news media, with the potential to cover other media in the future.
The proposal for a national press council comes one year after a Ryerson University study on the state of press councils in Canada, which concluded the bodies were ineffective in their present form. The report said regional press councils are not financially stable because, with the exception of Quebec’s council, they are entirely industry-funded.
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“The financial stability of press councils have taken a hit in recent years, with Sun Media papers withdrawing from the Ontario Press Council, Quebecor publications leaving the Conseil and publishers of individual newspapers such as the Edmonton Journal and the Winnipeg Free Press departing their respective councils as well,” the report said.
The Manitoba press council dissolved in 2012 soon after the Winnipeg Free Press’ departure as a member.
“A concerted effort must be made to attract back news organizations who have left Press Council membership,” the proposal reads. “From discussions with these organizations, standardized fees, rationalized administration, consistency in decision making and the ability to deal with one Press Council entity are prerequisite conditions to any reconsideration of their membership status.”
Postmedia’s senior vice-president for content Lou Clancy told J-Source that his media organization is “generally in favour” of a national press council.
“There is a need for a body like this so that the public has some accountability and also, accountability for the industry,” he said. “The [existing] press councils have gotten less valuable than they used to be. So for a press council to have value, a national office makes sense because it would have the strength in numbers [of members] and their decisions will have more weight.”
Still, he said Postmedia has some concerns about the mandate of the national press council and the fees, which he declined to elaborate upon but said he would discuss at a meeting with other media outlets in September.
Here, however, are the highlights of the proposal.
The structure and funding for the new council
The proposed national council would be funded by all 861 members of Newspapers Canada for a total budget of $386,950 annually.
The fees would range from $100 for a community newspaper with a circulation of 10,000 to $25,000 for a daily newspaper with a circulation of 200,000 and are based on members paying fees as part of their remittance to Newspapers Canada, including the departed Postmedia Network newspapers and Sun Media papers. Non-members can also join the national press council by paying an annual fee.
The national council would be divided into four regions—the Atlantic region (PEI, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador), the central region representing Ontario (and possibly Quebec’s English-language media), the western region (Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta) and the coastal region (B.C., Yukon, Nunavut and the N.W.T.).
The 20 council members would be selected on a regional basis from the existing press councils, with three public members and two media representatives appointed to represent each region.
The process for resolving complaints
Complaints from across the country would be sent to a central national office that would act as a clearinghouse. If an immediate resolution cannot be reached by office staff, the complaint would be forwarded to the regional press council from where the complaint originated. Then, the regional members would determine if the matter should be dismissed or if it needs a public hearing.
If it goes to a hearing, three regional members would convene via conference call with the complainant and representatives of the media organization.
The supporters and the naysayers
The proposal said the transition from a provincial-based model to a national model has been “fully endorsed” by press councils in B.C., Ontario and the Atlantic region, which includes New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.
While the other remaining regions—covering Manitoba, Saskatchewan and the territories—do not have active press councils, Newspapers Canada does not have the support of the Alberta Press Council.
“Albertans have trusted the APC to operate a successful model efficiently and effectively on their behalf for all those years and we see no need to change that relationship and risk the close provincial representation we presently experience,” the council directors said in a statement emailed to J-Source.
The council, however, does not represent the two largest newspapers in the province—the Edmonton Journal and the Calgary Herald. When asked if this still made the provincial council effective, its executive editor Colleen Wilson responded, “When the Edmonton Journal and Calgary Herald left APC membership, we didn't lose accountability in readers’ minds, they did!”
Meanwhile, the Quebec Press Council decided not to participate in the proposal for several reasons, according to Newspapers Canada proposal, “chiefly because it is the only Council supported by its provincial government and, unlike elsewhere, it considers complaints involving all media and deals solely in French.”
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