Clarification: The proposal for the national press council comes from the provincial press councils led by the Ontario Press Council. Newspapers Canada revealed the proposal online and is soliciting feedback from its members on behalf of the press councils.

By Tamara Baluja, Associate Editor

Newspapers Canada is soliciting feedback from its members on a proposal for a national press council to be launched in 2015.

The proposed council would hear unresolved complaints about the adherence to standards of ethical journalism and reporting by print and online news media, with the potential to cover other media in the future.

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“The financial stability of press councils have taken a hit in recent years, with Sun Media  papers withdrawing from the Ontario Press Council, Quebecor publications leaving the Conseil and publishers of individual newspapers such as the Edmonton Journal and the Winnipeg Free Press departing their respective councils as well,” the report said.

The Manitoba press council dissolved in 2012 soon after the Winnipeg Free Press’ departure as a member.

“A concerted effort must be made to attract back news organizations who have left Press Council membership,” the proposal reads. “From discussions with these organizations, standardized fees, rationalized administration, consistency in decision making and the ability to deal with one Press Council entity are prerequisite conditions to any reconsideration of their membership status.”

Postmedia’s senior vice-president for content Lou Clancy told J-Source that his media organization is “generally in favour” of a national press council.

“There is a need for a body like this so that the public has some accountability and also, accountability for the industry,” he said. “The [existing] press councils have gotten less valuable than they used to be. So for a press council to have value, a national office makes sense because it would have the strength in numbers [of members] and their decisions will have more weight.”

Still, he said Postmedia has some concerns about the mandate of the national press council and the fees, which he declined to elaborate upon but said he would discuss at a meeting with other media outlets in September.

Here, however, are the highlights of the proposal.

The proposed national council would be funded by all 861 members of Newspapers Canada for a total budget of $386,950 annually.

The fees would range from $100 for a community newspaper with a circulation of 10,000 to $25,000 for a daily newspaper with a circulation of 200,000 and are based on members paying fees as part of their remittance to Newspapers Canada, including the departed Postmedia Network newspapers and Sun Media papers. Non-members can also join the national press council by paying an annual fee.

Details of the fees can be found here.

The national council would be divided into four regions—the Atlantic region (PEI, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador), the central region representing Ontario (and possibly Quebec’s English-language media), the western region (Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta) and the coastal region (B.C., Yukon, Nunavut and the N.W.T.).

The 20 council members would be selected on a regional basis from the existing press councils, with three public members and two media representatives appointed to represent each region.

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.