Don McCurdy, the executive director of the Ontario Press Council, explains why his organization called public hearings to examine recent news reporting on Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and his brother and what one can expect to happen at the hearings. 

By Don McCurdy, executive diretor of the Ontario Press Council

Why is the Ontario Press Council putting the recent high-profile reporting on Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and his brother, Toronto Councillor Doug Ford, under a public microscope?

It’s all about transparency and accountability.

The Ontario Press Council exists to promote and protect free speech and freedom of expression, two rights Canadians should expect, but never take for granted. At the same time it exists to promote proper journalistic practices and acceptable ethical principles. The OPC also seeks to help develop a public understanding of journalism and how journalists should do their jobs.

The OPC provides the public with a no-cost opportunity to complain to an independent body about how a news organization operates in gathering and reporting the news.

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Established in 1972 as a voluntary organization for the province’s newspapers, the OPC deals with public complaints about the way its member news organizations gather, present and publish information in print or online.

The largest of five press councils in Canada, it has dealt with more than 4,000 complaints, averaging more than 100 each year. Of those, a small number of unresolved complaints proceed to a public hearing.

In considering recent complaints filed against the Toronto Star and the Globe and Mail over coverage of Mayor Ford and his brother, the OPC determined that some significant issues concerning the way investigative journalism is conducted should be examined. Public hearings into these issues will be held Sept. 9 at Ryerson University.


But there seems to be some confusion about the role of the OPC regarding these hearings, one of which will examine a complaint about the Star’s May 16 story on a video allegedly showing Mayor Ford smoking crack cocaine and the other a complaint about the Globe’s May 25 story reporting allegations that Doug Ford sold drugs as a young man.

It should be made clear that the OPC does not function as a court of law and is not in a position to determine legal issues, subpoena witnesses or make evidentiary findings. In hearing these complaints, the OPC will not determine if the video exists or not, or if members of the Ford family were involved in selling or using drugs.

The role of the OPC is to determine solely if the reporters and editors met well-established principles, standards of practice and ethical considerations associated with what is considered acceptable journalism.

In these upcoming public hearings, a panel of three members of the council will hear from both the complainants and the news organizations. Following the hearings, the panel will consider all of the relevant journalistic issues and present its findings to the full council for further deliberation.

If the Star, Globe or any one of the almost 150 news organization belonging to the OPC is found to have fallen short of the standards expected, they must publish the council’s ruling unedited.

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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.