The Toronto Star was right to publish a report about a cellphone video that appears to show Toronto Mayor Rob Ford smoking crack cocaine, without actually having a copy of the video in its possession, the Ontario Press Council has ruled.
The news organization was called before the council to justify its use of anonymous sources and to explain why it published the story about the video without further proof. The council said the paper did everything it could to verify the video’s contents, and had an obligation to report what its reporters saw despite the lack of evidence. “[The] council is of the view that the Star reporters were thorough in analyzing the video and came to a reasonable conclusion in deciding that it was a video of Rob Ford,” the council wrote in its decision.
The story led to complaints, several of which questioned whether the paper’s reporting on the mayor was in the public interest. The complainants also suggested the paper was acting out of “a dislike of the mayor and his policies,” which the press council rejected.
“The mayor is a senior public servant in a very important elected position,” the council said. “In that capacity, he is appropriately subject to a greater level of scrutiny than if he were a private citizen. It is, therefore, in the public interest for media to report his behaviour where that behaviour appears to be illegal and inappropriate, could impair the carrying out of duties and involves alleged activity he himself has condemned.”
The Star was asked to explain its efforts to reach the mayor before publication, given the story appeared soon after the website Gawker published the same allegations. The council said the paper “did meet the requirement of good investigative reporting” before publishing, as it tried to reach the mayor for comment.
Michael Cooke, the Star’s editor-in-chief, welcomed the ruling, saying it is “smart and fair and reaffirms guidelines all Canadian investigative reporters should follow.”I’m pleased these issues got a thorough airing – that’s good for our journalists and good for our readers.”
Darylle Donley, who filed the complaint against the Star, didn't want to comment on the ruling.
"The media is a bully," she said in a short phone call, before hanging up.
Councillor Doug Ford -- who was the subject of a Globe and Mail report allegeding that he sold drugs as a youth -- addressed the findings on a Toronto radio station Wednesday morning, telling John Oakley at AM 640 that the press council lacked credibility because it is stacked with “cronies” from the Toronto Star and Globe and Mail.
“Who is the press council?” he asked. “They are a bunch of cronies, all of the insiders trying to make judgments on the Toronto Star and Globe and Mail and a lot of them probably worked for the Toronto Star at some point.”
The hearing was actually run by retired Ontario judge George Thomson, the chief executive officer of the Investment Funds Institute of Canada Joanne De Laurentiis and Drew Gragg, deputy editor of the Ottawa Citizen.
Councillor Ford joked that he should put a giant sign outside his family's business, which faces Highway 401, imploring passing motorists to cancel their subscription to the Toronto Star.
The Ontario Press Council is an independent agency that considers complaints against 150 member news organizations. It has considered more than 4,000 complaints since its founding in 1972. If a panel sides with a complaint, the news organization must publish the ruling unedited.