Toronto mayor Rob Ford may pride himself of being accessible to every regular Joe who phones him, but he's spent his first year in office freezing out selected media. Now, the motion to address the slights in the public arena, and get the mayor talking, has flopped. Rhiannon Russell has more.

Toronto mayor Rob Ford may pride himself of being accessible to every regular Joe who phones him, but he's spent his first year in office freezing out selected media. Now, the motion to address the slights in the public arena, and get the mayor talking, has flopped. Rhiannon Russell has more.

Toronto city councillors have put a motion to stop press freeze-out on ice. While Toronto mayor Rob Ford has prided himself on answering every regular Joe and Jane’s phonecall, it’s commonly known he won’t talk to certain members of the media – namely those from the Toronto Star. A motion introduced in late September was supposed to change all that.

No longer. In a unanimous vote, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s executive committee deferred the “Free Press and Democracy” motion indefinitely.

When former City TV reporter Councillor Adam Vaughan’s first raised the hot-from-the-get-go motion, it quickly passed on to the executive committee. Never explicitly mentioning the Toronto Star, its broader goal was to prohibit city politicians from excluding certain journalists and news outlets from press conferences or news releases.

“Politicians should not regulate the media, period,” said Vaughan at Tuesday’s committee meeting, “In a free and open society, you treat all news organizations equally.” The motion, he added, would keep politicians from picking favourites.

“[Public] institutions should be dealing with the media fairly,” agreed David Nickle, city hall reporter for Metroland and president of the Toronto City Hall Press Gallery, who spoke in favour of the motion. “It’s a policy the whole city would do well to have written down.”

Councillor Peter Milczyn asked Nickle if the motion was indirectly referring to any specific news organization — a question that was likely on every committee member’s mind, and that every committee member, including Milczyn, likely already knew the answer to.

There have been some issues with the Toronto Star,” Nickle said. “It’s been an ongoing issue we’d like to address.”

The discussion refocused on generalities, until Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday burst out, “Let’s not beat around the bush. What’s the problem?”

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At this point, Ford got up and started to pace. He did not, however, comment at all on Vaughan’s motion.

Nickle addressed the elephant in the room – the long-standing legal dispute between Ford and the Star. He said that, although the motion is relevant to the Star, it was intended to depersonalize the issue.

Holyday agreed the disagreement between Ford and the newspaper had to be resolved, but added this was not the place to do so.I’ve spoken to editorial people at the Toronto Star, I’ve spoken to the mayor. You gotta solve that problem.” He said he was willing to help the two parties reach a resolution.

Councillor David Shiner said the motion’s weakness was its vagueness, specifically the line saying no elected official of the city “…shall exclude by name any individual journalist or news organization.”

“Is it not something that has to be better defined?” he asked. These terms could include any blogger, journalism student and reporter who isn’t a member of the press gallery.

Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong created a motion to defer Vaughan’s motion indefinitely. “Most of this motion is unnecessary,” he said. “I can say that when there’s a [media] conference…they invite everybody.”

Vaughan, who was seated behind Minnan-Wong, shook his head.

David Rider and Royson James, two Toronto Star journalists who were at the meeting, said they couldn’t comment on whether the newspaper would pursue a resolution with the mayor. “That’s up to the Star and Ford,” James said. “Corporately, I don’t make those types of decisions.”