Toronto Star reporters will get mandatory training on fairness and due diligence after the newspaper published false allegations that Ontario MPP Margarett Best vacationed in Mexico while on medical leave. It issued a rare apology on its front page, citing an “egregious lapse of the Star’s standards.”
“The newsroom is taking steps to ensure that everyone fully understand due diligence and fairness,” said public editor Kathy English in a column.
“In coming weeks, [Toronto Star lawyer Bert] Bruser, along with Kevin Donovan, the Star’s award-winning investigations editor, will lead mandatory training sessions for all reporters,” she said. English added that the core standard of fairness clear in stating that “any subject of potentially harmful factual allegations must be given opportunity to respond.”
Donovan, who will lead the training sessions, said “calling last minute doesn’t cut it. I often inform people or organizations on Day 1 of my investigation. People need to be told precisely what it is you are calling about.”
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Queen’s Park reporter Richard Brennan wrote a story based on "little more than a Facebook photo" that was posted on Best’s Facebook page in April. However, the photo was taken in 2008.
"The Star did the right thing here in publishing a rare Page 1 statement of apology, the first since 1995 when editors injected false information into a Page 1 caption accompanying a photo of then Ontario premier Mike Harris with a woman who advocated for the disabled," English wrote in another column. The Star also retracted the story.
"The essence of fairness at the Star, in line with the law’s requirements of responsible journalism, is making certain that anyone who is the subject of allegations regarding facts — not simply opinions — that could put them in a bad light be given opportunity to respond to those specific allegations. It’s not enough for a reporter to leave a message indicating they are working on a story — they must explicitly tell the subject the allegations they are planning to report and seek the other side of the story," English added.
Brennan said his "lack of technical expertise" and not being explicit in his communication with Best failed to "live up to the level of professionalism expected of me by the Star or myself."