Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Ontario human rights body calls for national press council

[This post has been updated] The Ontario Human Rights Commission is calling for a consolidated, national press council that would have the power to hold Canadian magazines, newspapers and internet sources to book for professional standards and accountability.

According to a story from the National Post, carried by CanWest News Services, the council should have the power to order publications and websites to publish its decisions.
Barbara Hall [a former mayor of Toronto], OHRC chief commissioner, said in an interview that the rise of the internet has strengthened the case for a national media watchdog. In her vision, a national press council would be "a vehicle for full discussion about what’s written in the media" that is less strict and more accessible than the courts.
The recommendation is part of the OHRC's contribution to a wide-ranging review by the Canadian Human Rights Commission, which is preparing a report to Parliament about the future of human rights regulation. It's also in response to recent cases -- such as a number of complaints in different jurisdictions against Maclean's magazine.
Hall’s endorsement is the most prominent so far, and it marks a significant moment in the debate over the role of human rights commissions in regulating the media. Hall was widely criticized for voicing her sympathies with the Maclean’s complaint, even while formally rejecting it. A national press council could alleviate this confusion by providing a forum for complainants who turn to human rights commissions, perhaps wrongly, as a last resort.

"As we saw in the Maclean’s case, we had different responses from each province, and that’s really confusing for people," Hall said.
However, the president of the Canadian Association of Journalists, Mary Agnes Welch, said she felt the idea of a national press council was a practical impossibility.
"The provincial ones don’t even work so how could we have a national one?" she said. "And I know a lot of journalists who would take umbrage at essentially being in a federally regulated profession . . . If on the crazy off-chance that there is some momentum behind this idea of a national press council, it won’t be coming from journalists."
[Update] Check out this interesting report from Britain's Media Standards Trust about media accountability. [Thanks, Craig Silverman.]

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