Complaints about the accuracy of claims about colony collapse disorder in bees and allegations of racism in coronavirus reporting weighed and dismissed by the ethics body

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The National NewsMedia Council reviews complaints from the public about member organizations under four broad categories: accuracy, opinion, sensitive issues and attribution. J-Source is a member of the NNC.

The National NewsMedia Council issued three decisions in February, among them one on a front-page headline regarding the coronavirus that inspired more than a dozen complaints.  

On Feb. 19, the NNC answered 13 individual complaints on one story with a dismissal. Each was made about a Feb. 5 Vancouver Province article titled “2nd China virus case in B.C.” for the headline, which they considered both racist and medically inappropriate as referring to the coronavirus outbreak. 

The NNC ultimately dismissed the complaints. A representative complaint, chosen from the 13, referred to the coverage of other viruses including the Zika virus, Ebola, H1N1 where the place of origin was not referred to blatantly. Also mentioned were statements from the World Health Organization warning against stoking stigma by associating the coronavirus with a single location. 

The Province responded to complainants by saying the term meant to geolocate the initial outbreak of the virus. The  editor also appeared on a local radio program to respond to accusations of discrimination. 

The NNC found that the paper adhered to journalistic standards throughout the article and there was no evidence of discrimination against Chinese community members.  

Read the full decision on Various vs. Vancouver Province here.

Another decision, released Feb. 18, followed a complaint made against a Jan. 13  article from the National Post titled “The hidden cost of almond milk: ‘Exploited and disrespected’ bees are dying by the billions.” The article on the human impact on bee populations included a statement attributing “pesticides – such as glyphosate (an active ingredient in Roundup)” as a factor in colony collapse disorder and the record death rate for bees over the last several years. 

The complainant took issue with the lack of scientific sources linking pesticides to bee deaths and the classification of glyphosate as a pesticide rather than a herbicide and  requested the National Post source the scientific evidence or issue a correction and apology.

The National Post rejected the complaint and provided the complainant a list of sources supportive of its journalist’s reporting. On the matter of journalistic standards, the NNC supported the response and due diligence in reporting. It found the journalist’s attribution to prior research and acknowledgement of other factors contributing to bee deaths to be sufficient. 

For these reasons, “the NNC found no evidence of inaccuracy and no breach of journalistic standards” and the complaint was dismissed. 

Read the full decision on Hockaday vs. National Post here.

A decision published Feb. 25  responds to accusations of a factual error in an opinion article titled “Donald Trump is right on Iran” published in the Jan. 8 Globe and Mail. Although he recognized the liberty of column writers to their opinion, the complainant took issue with the statement that Iran only put their “nuclear ambitions … on ice” following the Iran nuclear deal of 2015. He cited reports from the BBC and the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation that Iran indeed complied by destroying its nuclear weapons and infrastructure. 

The Globe and Mail responded with the fact that the Iran nuclear deal did not require the country to destroy its estimated 20,000 centrifuges which could be used to enrich uranium and restart its nuclear program. 

The NNC recognized that words and context are crucial in  that “undue focus on a word can distort the intended meaning of a sentence.” The NNC did not find that the writer’s opinion avoided fact and as such dismissed the complaint. 

“It is of the view (of the NNC) that while wording of the statement in question lacked precision that left it open to a question of inaccuracy,” wrote the council in its decision, “the question raised by focusing on a single statement did not substantially alter the overall argument of the opinion article.”

“It is worth noting,” adds the council, “that both parties made reference to allegations around defamation. The NNC views defamation as a strong allegation that should not be made lightly.”

Read the full decision on Attaran vs. Globe and Mail here. 


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