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OPC Decsiion Harrison v Globe Oct. 2013

OPC Decsiion Harrison v Globe Oct. 2013

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Published by Steve Ladurantaye
OPC Decsiion Harrison v Globe Oct. 2013
OPC Decsiion Harrison v Globe Oct. 2013

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Published by: Steve Ladurantaye on Oct 16, 2013
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Ontario Press Council Decision
 –
October 16, 2013In the Matter Regarding: Complaint from Ms. Connie Harrison regarding an article published by The Globe and Mail, dated May 25, 2013entitled
Globe Investigation: The Ford family’s history with drug
dealing
 
1
Matter Regarding:
Complaint from Ms. Connie Harrison regarding an article published by the Globe and Mail,dated May 25, 2013 entitled
Globe Investigation: The Ford family’s history 
with drug dealing
 
 ______________________________________________________________
 
Background:
The Council received a number of complaints from individuals across the country about the above-noted story.While it focused on one representative complaint, that of Ms. Harrison, it also took steps to ensure that all of theconcerns raised by the complainants were covered in the hearing. This was done by setting out the issues inadvance for the complainant and the newspaper, and by posing specific questions in the hearing.Council invited Mr. Doug Ford, the main subject of the article, to participate in the hearing, which is available at nocost to complainants. This was to ensure he was aware of the opportunity to be heard. As well, Council recognizedthat none
of the complainants was in a position to contest or comment upon the accuracy of the newspaper’s
account of its pre-publication attempts to alert Mr. Ford and other family members and to seek their response tothe allegations about to be published, an important issue for the Council. Mr. Ford did not file a complaint and didnot attend the hearing.
Regarding Ms. Harrison’s complaint, Council determined it was important to hold a hearing
, ensuring an open,transparent process, for two reasons:First, the complaints raised important, substantive issues about fairness and balance. The Council only recently setout its view of what constitutes responsible investigative journalism
1
in its decision in Marin v the Toronto Star,
[2011]. Ms. Donley’s complaint pro
vided an opportunity to Council to broaden its analysis and to apply standardsit has developed in past decisions. In addition, the Supreme Court of Canada, in Grant v Torstar Corp [2009] SCC61, set out important new guidelines to be considered when determining whether allegations contained in anewspaper article can be justified as responsible communication on a matter of public interest
2
. In the opinion of the Council, this made it important that there be a public discussion of the issues in this case.
Second, and equally important, was that the language of the complaints and the language of the newspaper’s
response raised the possibility of a fundamental disconnect between the two parties on how to assess the contentof the
Globe’
s article. The complainants, including Ms. Harrison, saw the article as unfair, based as it was on theexclusive use of anonymous sources. For the Globe, the article demonstrated the importance of intensiveinvestigative reporting on a matter of public interest
 –
exposing the inappropriate past behaviour of a public figure
1
 
In the Marin v Toronto Star, the OPC attempted to define i
nvestigative journalism as involving the attempt to determine `…what the journalist
perceives to be the most credible conclusion to be drawn from an extensive exploration of alleged wrongdoing in business, government or
elsewhere….., by definition, an “investigation” is being conducted, and while no explicit finding may be made, the journalist
is justified inassessing the information received and making his or her judgment on its credibility and weight when preparing the series of stories.`
2
In Grant v Torstar Chief Justice McLachlin set out the following (although not, according to the court, necessarily exhaustive) questions to beasked in considering whether the newspaper acted responsibly: (1) the seriousness of the allegation; (2) the public importance of the matter;(3) the urgency of the matter;(4) the status and reliability of the source; (5) whether the plaintiff's side of the story was sought and accuratelyrecorded; (6) whether the inclusion of the defamatory statement was justifiable; (7) whether the defamatory statement's public interest lay inthe fact that it was made rather than its truth (reportage).
 
Ontario Press Council Decision
 –
October 16, 2013In the Matter Regarding: Complaint from Ms. Connie Harrison regarding an article published by The Globe and Mail, dated May 25, 2013entitled
Globe Investigation: The Ford family’s history with drug
dealing
 
2
and his family members. It was important that this difference in perception be acknowledged and discussed in anopen hearing.
The Council’s review of this and other complaints it has received has
led it to conclude that the robust andextensive journalistic standards that good reporting should meet are not well known or understood by the public.Nor is there sufficient awareness of internal codes of conduct, such as the one the Globe uses and has posted onits web site (entitled:
The Globe and Mail, Editorial Code of Conduct.
)This lack of knowledge is contributing to the disconnect between the parties and should be of some concern to thenewspaper. It is certainly of concern to the Press Council whose very existence grew out of a desire to establishand promote good journalistic practices and to hold its members responsible for meeting them.
The Hearing and the Issue to be Decided:
The Ontario Press Council held a hearing on September 9, 2013 attended by Ms. Harrison and representatives fromthe Globe and Mail: John Stackhouse, Editor-in-Chief, Sinclair Stewart, Editor of News and Sports, and GregMcArthur, investigative reporter.
3
 
In considering Ms. Harrison’s complaint
, the Ontario Press Council determined that the broad issue to beaddressed in the hearing was
whether the newspaper had engaged in irresponsible, unethical investigativereporting.
To provide both parties with a better sense of what the Council felt needed to be considered indeciding this broad question, the Council identified three more specific issues:1.
 
Did the article deal with a matter that is in the public interest?2.
 
Were adequate efforts made to verify the allegations before publishing them?3.
 
Was Mr. Doug Ford given adequate notice of the allegations and a reasonable opportunity to respond,and did the newspaper include that response in its reporting?
Analysis:
What is it that makes a piece of investigative reporting irresponsible or unethical? While the Supreme Court inGrant v. Torstar identified a number of questions to be considered when deciding whether a newspaper has actedresponsibly, in Council's view the three that are set out above are the important ones in this particular case. Abasic requirement is to balance the constitutionally protected right of freedom of expression against the need toprotect the individual's reputation and privacy. If that is fairly done, deciding to publish a communication thatincludes allegations against someone is defensible. Even if the newspaper making the allegations is unable to
prove that they are “true” it may legally publish them if all three of these requirements ar
e met. The capacity fordebate on matters of public interest is essential in a democratic society. One result is that we permitcommunication of facts a reasonable person would accept as reliable, even when absolute proof is lacking.
3
 
A copy of Ms. Harrison’s complaint and the Globe & Mail’s can be found on the OPC website
 
 
Ontario Press Council Decision
 –
October 16, 2013In the Matter Regarding: Complaint from Ms. Connie Harrison regarding an article published by The Globe and Mail, dated May 25, 2013entitled
Globe Investigation: The Ford family’s history with drug
dealing
 
3
The Council believes that these questions are also important ones to ask when deciding if a newspaper has beenboth responsible and ethical when it publishes the results of its investigative reporting. They represent the law;more than that, they reflect the principle that the person being written about must be treated fairly.
The Council, has expanded on this fairness requirement and makes reference to “commonly accepted ethicalstandards” when assessing whether a newspaper publication is acceptable. For example, it has rule
d that an articlemay
not be “unnecessarily hurtful” to the person against whom the allegations are made.
Answering the questionsset out by the Supreme Court may be determinative. However, it has also been emphasized in past Councildecisions that the legal standard is not the only one that is applicable. The member newspapers know this is thecase and many of them have developed codes of conduct to follow
 –
the Globe is one of them.Turning now to the three specific questions identified by the Council:
1.
 
Did the article deal with a matter that is in the public interest?
The complainants regarded the article as defamatory to Doug Ford and his family, injurious to the reputation of the city, and lacking credibility because the sources used were all anonymous. Ms. Harrison was particularlyconcerned about the use of anonymous sources and she questioned the motives of the editors in publishing thestory.The Globe article is based on an extensive period of investigation over several months by its reporters that began
as an exploration of the background of what it submitted was one of Toronto’s most powerful political families.
 
Ultimately it became what the article describes as “a portrait of a family once deeply immersed in the illegal drug
 
scene”
. The Globe extended the investigation into other members of the family who are not in public life,submitting that Mayor Rob Ford and Councillor
Doug Ford made their family a “public entity” through repeated
references to the many contributions the family has made to the public health and welfare of the City of Torontoand, in particular, the Etobicoke area, where they live.
Much of the article focuses on Mr. Doug Ford’s alleged role as a dealer of hashish in his community over a period
of years. It relies heavily on a series of interviews with individuals who purport to have known and associated withMr. Ford when he was a teenager and into his early twenties. All were persons who stated that they were involvedin drugs as either dealers or buyers and they
had direct knowledge of Doug Ford’s drug related activities.
While thearticle provides some information about each of the sources, their names are not disclosed.
The article also deals with the early years of Doug Ford’s
younger brother, now Mayor Rob Ford. There is nosuggestion that he was involved in the selling of drugs and much of the discussion focuses on his sports and othercommunity activities, with some reference to a present associate and an arrest in Florida involving possession of asmall amount of marijuana that was previously reported in the media.In addition, the Globe story deals with the past behaviour of 
Mr. Ford’s brother
Randy and sister Kathy, relying onthe same or similar anonymous sources and upon court and public records. In the case of Randy Ford, theallegation is that he was engaged in the same drug dealing activities as his brother. The references to Kathy arefocused on her relationships with persons whose backgrounds included extensive drug use or drug related criminalconvictions. The story also includes reference to serious domestic related incidents of violence and to allegedmarginal connections to a white supremacist organization led by an individual with a drug related background.Many of the incidents involving both her and Randy have been previously reported in the media. Rob Ford has also
answered questions about his siblings’ past t
roubles.

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