Canada has a new press and newsmedia council thanks to a refreshed and renewed commitment to the newsmedia industry by publications across the country, as well as the successful amalgamation of several regional press councils, including the Ontario Press Council, the Atlantic Press Council and the British Columbia Press Council. A launch celebration is planned for early October.
This new Council has been created in a spirit that will encourage the highest ethical and professional standards of journalism and act as a medium of understanding between the public and member news organizations. Akin to most other press councils, the National Newsmedia Council will receive, review and potentially adjudicate complaints from the public regarding alleged violations of ethical and/or journalistic standards about a member outlet’s publication.
The National Newsmedia Council (NNC) was constituted officially on September 1, 2015, with the Hon. Frances Lankin, former CEO of the United Way Toronto and former cabinet minister in the Ontario Government, serving as its first chair. John Fraser, the award-winning Canadian journalist, author, editor and immediate past master of Massey College in the University of Toronto, is the inaugural President and CEO.
The NNC will be sharing office space with the Newspapers Canada head office in mid-town Toronto. Newspapers Canada CEO John Hinds welcomed the news about the new NNC: “I think this is a fantastic opportunity. The great thing about it is it allows areas like Saskatchewan and Manitoba to have representation again. It brings that model to the full country.”
Speaking for the new organization, the inaugural President and CEO, John Fraser, said his first task is to assure all the current media members of the Council that a national body is going to strengthen their commitment to a fair and just accounting of media practices. “Newspapers and magazines serve the public and it is the public, first and foremost, who need to have confidence that this industry-supported agency is working to protect its best interests. At the same time, the news media industry is in tremendous transition and we have an important role to play in assuring that this transition includes the very best standards of journalism.”
Background to the new organization
Press councils from British Columbia, Ontario, Atlantic Canada, and the majority of print news media organizations from across Canada have made the strategic decision to come together to launch the new National Newsmedia Council. This new Council will encourage the highest ethical and professional standards of journalism and act as a medium of understanding between the public and member news organizations. Akin to most other press councils, the National Newsmedia Council will receive, review and potentially adjudicate complaints from the public regarding alleged violations of ethical and/or journalistic standards about a member outlet’s publication.
Council public members will be selected to represent the geographic areas that had been served previously by most of Canada’s press councils, as well as other parts of the country that have not had representation for some years. Journalism industry members selected to sit on the National Council will represent news organizations throughout the country, with the exception of Quebec which has a French-language press council supported by the Government of Quebec.
The Case for a National Newsmedia Council
Over the past decade, the membership of press councils has been eroded by the withdrawal of a significant number of daily newspapers in regions across the country. Despite this, Councils were able to provide continued service to remaining members, but they had to operate with dramatically reduced revenues, reductions in staff and salaries, diminished time to provide public education on how journalists do their jobs, and a growing inability to serve populations in some geographic areas because non-member newspapers are not subject to decisions on public concerns over fairness, accuracy and commentary.
During this difficult period, without benefit of membership and funding from key large-circulation daily newspapers, the readership in some major urban centres did not have an opportunity to voice objections to an independent body to review journalistic practices by the large news operations This can leave readers frustrated when attempting to seek resolution to concerns about non-member newspapers and undermines the credibility of the industry’s self regulatory model. If press councils are not seen to be credible arbiters of industry-wide standards of journalism, there will exist little incentive or benefit for the remaining newspaper members of Councils to continue membership.
Without an opportunity for the public to file complaints to an independent body at no cost, there is a potential for newspapers to face increased exposure to lawsuits, boycotting of advertisers and lost subscriptions. There is also a risk of the loss of credibility and transparency of newspapers in the public eye which can result in a further decline in readership, diminished profile and, ultimately, an erosion of influence.
The industry also has concerns about the potential of government regulation of newspapers if the self-regulatory model continues to be eroded. In the United Kingdom, the Levison inquiry recently renewed this concern in dramatic style. News organizations view a no-cost complaint process which results in discussion of issues as preferable to lengthy and expensive legal action or government regulation.
A Renewed Commitment
In the world of today’s newspapers, geographic borders are of less and less relevance. Growing online content and online readership has changed where and how people are accessing news. Concentration of regional and national ownership means a greater interest on the part of owners in a Press Council model that provides rationalized and standardized processes and fee structures, and provides consistency in the application of codes and principles guiding decision making.
From a public perspective, a credible National Newsmedia Council model that can deliver well-reasoned and documented decisions will provide the public an opportunity to have concerns fully reviewed by an independent, knowledgeable and broadly representative group of people.
Members of Canada’s newsmedia industry have embraced the concept and model of the new National Newsmedia Council with enthusiasm and financial support. Large dailies and regional community newspapers which had withdrawn from previous organizations have signed on with the new council and endorsed an extensive search for a new president and CEO who is mandated to ensure regional support and participation across the country.
The new National Newsmedia Council begins its life with a renewed and refreshed mandate, with powerful support from the industry, from decades of experience from past press councils, and with a nationally respected and strong chair from the non-journalistic world and an equally respected journalist with extensive practice in the field and many years of management experience. It began life legally on September 1, 2015 and will have an official launch later in October.
For further information, please contact Don McCurdy at 416-340-1981