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Public Editor Sylvia Stead responds to readers and gives a behind-the-scenes look

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City of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is followed by a trail of reporters after he received his flu shot in Toronto on Friday, Nov. 8, 2013. (Nathan Denette/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
City of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is followed by a trail of reporters after he received his flu shot in Toronto on Friday, Nov. 8, 2013. (Nathan Denette/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Public editor: Why comments are closed on some Rob Ford stories and not others Add to ...

I had a number of readers express frustration last week when comments were closed for legal reasons on all stories related to Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. The readers wondered why The Globe had closed comments when other organizations had not, and why it allowed comments on the federal Senate scandal, but not on Mr. Ford.

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So on Wednesday, The Globe will open comments on stories related to Toronto public policy issues, such as the city council meeting. Comments will continue to be closed on all stories that touch on Rob Ford and legal matters, including court cases involving his associates or others. However, stories about Mr. Ford and public policy issues will be open to comments.

On the Senate scandal, although three senators are being investigated by the RCMP, neither the Senators nor anyone else involved have been charged with anything, so comments remain open.

Here are a few of the e-mails readers sent to me about Mr. Ford and comments:

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Sylvia, with all due respect, I must not be the first person to be appalled by your newspaper’s decision to close comments on the Rob Ford voyage down the Humber to the River Styx.

From a legal perspective, there is nothing about his actions that is currently before the courts; therefore, there is nothing in law that prevents your newspaper from allowing readers’ fair comment on a story that is in the public interest (your paper’s absolution in the recent Ontario News Council case, upheld).

So….why the embargo?

Hmm, the Star and Post provide much insight through their own comments pages. And valuable leads gleaned, I know.

Among others things (such as participatory discourse), there are those among us who would like to contribute and reflect about the other players in what is emerging as a much larger political tapestry. To whit: Flaherty’s involvement with his friends the Ford brothers. And especially, his announcement earlier this year that his weight gain, floridity, sweaty appearance and general distraction on the job was a result of ‘medication.’ And crocodile tears today.

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Why do you hide behind “legal reasons” as a reason for closing comments so often when other media companies do not?

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Can you comment more about Canada’s contempt of court laws and your newspaper’s response to them (or point me to an earlier article)?

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You mentioned in your piece titled: “The media’s complicated relationship with Rob Ford” that the comments section is turned off because Globeandmail.com Executive Editor Jim Sheppard said all stories related to legal cases, police investigations or where they might be charges are closed to comments including because Canada’s contempt of court laws restrict the kind of information that can be published in advance of a trial in order to protect the right of the accused to a fair trial and an unbiased jury. I’ll take your word for it that the comments section of your newspaper might influence a prospective jury pool that much.

**********

Further to my previous comment, the “legal reasons” for not including comments regarding Ford certainly do not involve charges, since none have been made – there may or may not be a police investigation.

If a police investigation is the reason for denying comment on Mayor Ford, why doesn’t Nigel Wright (who is also subject to police investigation) get the same treatment? You allow comments that proclaim him guilty (he has not even been charged) and would be clearly defamatory if anyone chose to take action.

Again, I would say, clear hypocrisy and doubled standards on behalf of The Globe. Let’s have the same rules for all.

******************

I find it very interesting that The Globe allows all sorts of comments regarding Prime Minister Harper that clearly violate its terms and conditions (personal attacks, unsubstantiated allegations) and does not remove them, while they prohibit all comments concerning Rob Ford.

Perhaps you might explain why The Globe believes that open season on Prime Minister Harper and his government (with no attention whatsoever paid to the forum’s Terms and Conditions) is quite appropriate, while they refuse to allow any comment at all on the Mayor of Toronto.

My reading is that it is hypocrisy of the first order.

If you’d like to get in touch with me, you can do so at publiceditor@globeandmail.com

 

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