By Halla Imam
Editors at The Toronto Star and The Globe and Mail appeared at an Ontario Press Council hearing Monday to defend their stories about Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and his brother Doug’s alleged drug use.
In May, Toronto Star reporters Kevin Donovan and Robyn Doolittle, wrote a story that alleged the two had seen a video of the mayor smoking what appeared to be crack cocaine. A couple of weeks later The Globe and Mail ran a story that focused on Doug’s alleged drug ties in the city.
Rob and Doug have denied the allegations made by both publications.
The hearing was held in the engineering building at Ryerson and questioned the journalistic ethics of both outlets after concerned readers filed complaints.
If the council finds either publication guilty of unethical reporting, they will be forced to print this decision in their respective papers.
Editors appeared in front of three council members to protect their stories, defend their reporting and use of anonymous sources.
“This story is defamatory, but it’s not false,” said Toronto Star Editor-in-Chief Michael Cooke.
Shortly after 10 a.m., The Star defended reporting they had seen a video, which was viewed on an iPhone, of Mayor Rob Ford allegedly smoking crack cocaine.
Cooke also argued the paper had made multiple attempts to directly contact the mayor, his chief of staff and family. Cooke said he believes it was in the interest of the public to publish the story.
“There was no doubt in our minds that the mayor of Canada’s biggest city was in front of a crack house alongside gun and drug dealers. This surely affects the welfare of citizens; it is surely in the public’s interest,” said Donovan.
The panel asked whether or not irresponsible or unethical journalism had taken place by looking at three main questions: whether the Ford family was given fair notice and opportunity to respond to the reports; whether their sources were valid and whether the stories were serving public interest.
Rob alluded specifically to The Toronto Star and has claimed to be the centre of an unfair smear campaign.
“We do not have a personal vendetta against Rob Ford,” said Cooke. “I tell you now, with great emphasis, that the story is true, every word of it.”
Shortly after 1 p.m. the second hearing began. The Globe and Mail editor-in-chief, John Stackhouse also defended his paper’s reporting.
The Globe’s story used entirely anonymous sources and had focused on Doug’s alleged drug dealing.
News reporter Sinclair Stewart argued that not publishing the story would “have been socially and journalistically irresponsible,” despite using all anonymous sources.
“The Supreme Court of Canada outlines that some form of legal protection between journalists and their sources are required. Our use of anonymous sources was necessary as it ultimately served in the public interest,” said Stackhouse.
Neither the mayor nor his brother were present for either hearing despite having been invited by the Ontario Press Council.