Support for a national council to be launched in 2015 appears to be consolidating across Canada, writes Toronto Star public editor Kathy English.

By Kathy English, public editor of The Toronto Star

He believes passionately that publishing the news is not only a privilege, it also carries responsibilities.

He has long championed media accountability and self-regulation in Canada, speaking out for readers and the need to ensure we listen to you and provide you with the means to have your concerns and complaints about the journalism of this and other news organizations adjudicated fairly.

As John Honderich, chair of Torstar Corp, is inducted into the Canadian News Hall of Fame this week, he will undoubtedly be lauded with an abundance of accolades for his considerable accomplishments throughout his newspaper career (thus far). While his achievements are indeed many, for me it is Honderich’s fierce commitment to media accountability that looms large.

Honderich has long been a steadfast supporter of both the Star’s public editor’s office (formerly known as the ombudsman’s office) and the Ontario Press Council. He understood the importance of press accountability and transparency long before social media made it an imperative.

He speaks, and writes, eloquently on this matter.

“While the right to a free press is guaranteed in our Charter of Rights, this should never, in my view, be a license to do whatever a publisher or editor wants,” Honderich wrote in 2011.

In that article, Honderich questioned Sun Media’s decision to pull out of the Ontario Press Council. To his dismay, that move weakened the council and left readers in many small communities across Ontario with no means of media accountability beyond costly legal action.

Time and time again, Honderich has affirmed the Star’s support for the independent council as a no-cost means for readers to hold our journalists to account when they are dissatisfied with this news organization’s response to complaints.

As he wrote in 2012: “For Canadian papers to argue somehow that they can carry on without any accountability — save and except forcing disgruntled readers to sue in court — strikes me as high-handed and insensitive.”

Not surprisingly, Honderich is an advocate, indeed a leader, of a move to enhance media accountability in Canada by creating a national press council. Indeed, he got this ball rolling, having provided an arms-length personal donation to partially fund a Ryerson University Journalism Research Centre study into the state of Canada’s regional press councils.

That study was commissioned by Newspapers Canada. Released last year, it examined the problems facing Canada’s remaining press councils in the Atlantic region, Quebec, Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia. It found dwindling support for these regional councils and predicted most of them would not survive.

“There’s no question that John Honderich was extremely supportive of the idea for a national press council and has encouraged others to get involved,” said Don McCurdy, executive director of the OPC, which initiated a proposal on behalf of most of the councils to encourage the newspaper industry to endorse a national press accountability body.

Honderich’s commitment to establishing a viable means of media self-regulation has been important to this initiative, Frances Lankin, the OPC’s volunteer chair, told me this week.

“When the press councils across this country started to fail and struggle and questions emerged about their ongoing viability in a changing industry, John Honderich was one of the first to say we have to examine this issue and determine the best way to provide members of the public access to a complaint and challenge process and assure that journalists meet the highest standards of integrity and ethics,” Lankin said.

I am happy to tell you that support for a national council to be launched in 2015 appears to be consolidating across Canada. Executives at Postmedia, which now owns 10 daily newspapers across Canada, as well as several community papers, confirmed for me this week that Postmedia is committed to a national council.

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