The Integrity Commissioner writes that while “there is no question that there was evidence of differential treatment towards reporters for the Toronto Star,” there was no breach of conduct on the part of Mayor Rob Ford. 

By Tamara Baluja

The city’s integrity commissioner has rejected the Toronto Star’s complaint about Mayor Rob Ford's office refusing to send press releases to Star journalists.

The Star alleges the mayor abused his power in treating Toronto Star journalists differently from other reporters covering City Hall. The mayor is adamant he won’t talk to the Toronto Star until it issues a front-page apology for a story he maintains is false.

“There is no question that there was evidence of differential treatment towards reporters for the Toronto Star,” integrity commissioner Janet Leiper concluded in a report released last month. Yet she says that “there was no breach of the Code of Conduct by Mayor Ford.”

She cited various reasons, including that it is an accepted practice of elected officials to determine how and when they will grant access to the media. She also wrote that Ford’s personal policy of “not talking to the Star” was incomplete, because with his knowledge and approval, some bulk e-mails were sent to thestar.ca, as well as sister publications owned by Metroland and TorStar companies. Furthermore, she writes that a former press secretary used a number of “work around” tactics, such as providing comments “not for attribution,” as well as responding to questions by Star journalists during scrums.  

*Screenshot from the integrity commissioner's report

Leiper’s report was made public shortly after Ford called Star journalists “pathological liars” following the publication of a story detailing his alleged issues with alcohol abuse.

She concluded that “while the outcome of the Mayor’s approach to this news outlet may have been impractical, inefficient and uneven, it did not amount to discreditable conduct, […] this is not to say that the complaint is without merit [… and …] the circumstances that led to this complaint are worthy of scrutiny.” 

A Toronto Star editorial said the “Leiper has badly dropped the ball” in this case.

“The Office of the Mayor, run at a cost to taxpayers last year of $1.9 million, should have an obligation to communicate on an equitable basis with the public – including the news media that serve as the public’s eyes and ears at city hall. Freezing out an organization the mayor doesn’t like isn’t just petty. As the Star complained to Leiper in December, 2011, it is “an abuse of power and an improper use of influence” arising out of an essentially personal dispute.”

[node:ad]

The City Hall press gallery president David Nickle, said he respects Leiper’s decision but continues to believe all outlets should be treated equally, The Star reported.  “Whether that’s a code of conduct matter or some other matter, the principle still stands,” said Nickle, whose Toronto Community News publication is also owned by Torstar.

Meanwhile, the Toronto Sun quoted deputy mayor Doug Holyday applauding the integrity commissioner’s ruling.

 “It’s almost like a victory,” Holyday said. “It is just another matter, I guess, that has been put to Ford to aggravate him and another matter that, I guess, when judged hasn’t any merit.”

Related J-Source content:

–          Ford calls Toronto Star staff 'pathological liars'

–          Rob Ford's relations (or lack thereof) with the Toronto Star and today's front page

–          Press Freedom: Who gives a damn, anyway?

 

 

 

Tamara Baluja is an award-winning journalist with CBC Vancouver and the 2018 Michener-Deacon fellow for journalism education. She was the associate editor for J-Source from 2013-2014.