When the Toronto Star printed the Ontario Press Council decision against the newspaper, we messed up by not indicating the report was written by the press council, writes public editor Kathy English. 

By Kathy English, public editor of the Toronto Star

It is no secret that the Toronto Star opposes secrecy and demands openness of information about all matters of public interest.

Be it governments, police, courts, doctors and other health professionals, teachers, daycare centres or the regulatory bodies of public institutions, the Star pushes for transparency and accountability wherever secrecy and silence prevail.

Given this, it should not surprise anyone here that some readers questioned why an article published in the Star this week about an Ontario Press Council decision against the Star named the York University professor whose complaint was upheld but did not name the Star reporter or others involved in what was clearly a lapse of the Star’s journalistic standards and our own accountability process.

The answer is simple but inadequate in this era in which we expect transparency from public institutions and the media: the OPC decision against the Star was written by the council. Like all OPC members, the Star must publish council decisions unedited when complaints are upheld.

Unfortunately, the Star did not make clear to readers that the article was written by the OPC. We have now added a note to the online report to that effect.

The article, which included the OPC’s headline, “Reporter compounded mistake in story, press council finds” named the complainant, Dr. Blake Martin, but referred only to the “Star reporter.” That gave rise to reader concerns that the Star had deliberately kept the reporter’s name from the public eye.

I will tell you more about this error and name names, but first, I think it’s fair to say the Star would not accept a similar standard of partial disclosure from any other accountability body. It would call for full disclosure.

To that end, I sent a note this week to the OPC suggesting it may be time to revisit its long-standing policy of generally not naming individual journalists in its decisions because it considers complaints to be against the news organization involved, not against its staff.

Frances Lankin, chair of the OPC, responded immediately. In an email, she first pointed out, rightly I think, that the OPC judged this lapse to be “a system failure, not only a reporter’s error.

“In general however I would agree that transparency is such an important part of journalism today and commit that the Ontario Press Council will review its policy and practice, to determine if and when it is appropriate to name individual employees.”

This was indeed a “system failure” in which everything that could go wrong did, including nearly a week delay in publishing a correction of a significant error, a fact for which I must take much responsibility. I apologized to Martin, a York University teacher who holds a doctorate in kinesiology, for this delay last fall, well before the OPC hearing. We also published a correction and Martin’s letter to the editor decrying reporter Graham Slaughter’s reporting.

To continue reading this column, please go thestar.com where it was originally published.


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