Home > Ethics > The answer is yes, I should care about the press council.

The answer is yes, I should care about the press council.

December 11, 2010

At the end of my most recent post, I wrote that I didn’t care about the B.C. Press Council. But someone thinks I should.

Tim Shoults, Kamloops Daily News publisher, a member of the press council and a former editor, posted the following comment about the council. (I’ll try to give the best comments a post of their own because this WordPress theme, despite being otherwise the best of the bunch, gives short shrift to comments).

If you’re a reporter, you should definitely care about the Press Council — it’s one of the reasons there isn’t government regulation of the press.

Press Councils were formed across Canada in the early 1980s, primarily in response to the Kent Commission, which had recommended some form of government oversight of print media. They allow individuals, organizations and even governments to make formal complaints against member newspapers for breaches of the Council’s code of ethics without resorting to the expense and more limited scope of the court system. Member newspapers who are the subject of complaints are compelled to respond to the complainant and, if the matter is not settled by mediation, can be taken to a hearing and are required to publish its findings.

Almost every newspaper in BC (and so far one online-only organization, the Okanagan site Castanet) is a member of the BC Press Council and sustains it by paying dues and providing representatives to serve on the Council. Public members, generally representing a cross-section of the province by geography, always constitute a majority of members of the board and the chair is always a public member. Public members apply to join the board as vacancies arise (the openings are advertised publicly in member newspapers) and are chosen by the board based on their demonstrated capacity for leadership in a variety of fields.

Over the years, the BC Press Council has held hearings on some very high-profile issues concerning journalism in BC, including a case where the Government of BC made a complaint against the Black Press group of for directing its newspapers to run editorials opposing the Nisga’a Treaty. While there have been relatively fewer formal hearings in recent years, the Council deals with dozens of cases each year that are resolved by mediation and hundreds more complaints that do not even need to go that far. The fact that the Council is quiet does not mean it is ineffective.

I hope you would agree that self-regulation of the press, while certainly imperfect, is much less disturbing than the concept of government regulation. The recent example of media outlets being dragged before Human Rights Tribunals shows what that could look like.

Hope this helps.

Tim Shoults (DISCLOSURE: As noted in the posting above, I am an industry representative on the BC Press Council.)

Here’s my takeaway: the fact that I don’t care about the Press Council means that it’s doing a pretty good job and, thus, I should care about the council.

On a related note, Shoults has been carrying the commenting load on this site. I know there are many journalists reading this site (Big Brother stat counter is onto you!) but Tim seems to be the only guy who wants to start a conversation. Leave a comment, dammit.

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  1. December 12, 2010 at 2:07 pm

    I just came across the following linked Globe and Mail story about the Ontario Press Council which, while it seems to have made the appropriate decision, also seems to have dropped the ball in regards to publicizing its decision and publicly rebuking the Ottawa Citizen for failing to attend the hearings.

    http://m.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/second-reading/spector-vision/accountability-at-the-ottawa-citizen/article1834344/?service=mobile

  2. December 11, 2010 at 6:37 pm

    Good point Mark, I think you’re right.

  3. Mark Hamilton
    December 11, 2010 at 6:08 pm

    I largely agree. I think the BC Press Council would be even more important and vital if it publicized the “dozens of cases each year that are resolved by mediation,” giving people a clearer picture of what the council does, the ability the public has to deal with legitimate media complaints, and the commitment newspapers have to serving the public.

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