Canada's two most prominent newspapers faced questions on Monday over stories they published about Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and his brother alleging drug use and trafficking, and both took the opportunity to note the absence of the Ford brothers.
The Ontario Press Council questioned senior writers and editors from the Toronto Star and the Globe and Mail over two reports surrounding the powerful Ford family. The Ontario Press Council scheduled the hearings after several members of the public complained about the articles.
In May, the Star reported that two of its reporters had viewed a video of the mayor smoking from a crack pipe, while the Globe reported later that month that his brother, Coun. Doug Ford, had operated a drug trafficking organization in his youth.
The reports relied heavily on anonymous sources and prompted debate over the Fords’ history as well as the role of media. Mayor Rob Ford called journalists “a bunch of maggots” and claimed the Star had a personal vendetta, while Doug Ford called the allegations false and accused media of stalking his family and friends.
The Fords were given an opportunity to file complaints and participate in the hearing, yet neither was in attendance on Monday.
This was not a trial or an inquiry, rather an attempt by journalism experts to determine whether the reports stood up to industry standard. Yet it is notable that neither Ford elected to participate in the hearing.
Both have accused the newspapers of inaccuracy and wrongdoing, related to specifically these articles or otherwise. Yet when it came time to hammer them on their reporting tactics, neither jumped to the task. Notable, considering one of the key questions up for debate were whether the Fords were given opportunity to respond to the allegations.
During the one-day hearing both newspapers defended their stories, underlining that the illicit drug use of political figures and their connections to drug and gun dealers fall well inside the definition of public interest, as well as their use of anonymous sources.
Each newspaper also managed to emphasize that the Fords had been provided opportunity to comment and had either declined or ignored the invitation.
Rob Ford has a well-established history of ignoring questions posed by the Star and the paper says requests for comment are frequently ignored.
Michael Cooke, editor-in-chief of the Toronto Star, said in his statement to the Council that the newspaper made numerous attempts to contact Ford or his staff for comment before publishing the crack allegations.
"Reporters visited Mayor Ford’s home and his brother’s home. Reporters called the Mayor and other officials in his office. We sent text messages. Our synopsis shows we made at least 14 attempts to get comment," Cooke said in his statement.
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The Star further pointed out that the mayor continues to avoid addressing the issue and owes the public answers. Ford's most concrete response to the allegations to date has been: "I do not use crack cocaine, nor am I an addict of crack cocaine."
Globe Editor John Stackhouse, meantime, said Doug Ford was approached for comment on numerous occasions, both directly and through staff and legal representatives.
“It is perhaps worth noting here that despite off-hand denials of the story’s central facts, no formal effort, to our knowledge, has been made to refute the story, and that the standard channels for redress, up to and including the public courts, have not been sought,” Stackhouse said in a statement.
The Ontario Press Council will deliberate in private and is expected to release its findings later this month. Those findings will not include insight from the Fords, who are critical of the newspapers’ reporting tactics.
But not critical enough to participate in the hearing.
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