Newspaper defends report on Toronto mayor crack allegations

TORONTO (Reuters) - Canada's largest newspaper acted in the public interest in May when it published a report that contained allegations that Toronto Mayor Rob Ford had been caught on video smoking crack cocaine, the Toronto Star's top editor told regulators on Monday.

Toronto Star Editor-in-Chief Michael Cooke told the Ontario Press Council, a voluntary self-regulatory organization, that his newspaper's reporting on Ford, who has said he does not smoke crack, was both ethical and legal.

He was responding to complaints made by private citizens against Torstar Corp's flagship paper over its coverage of Ford. Ford himself did not make a complaint and he did not appear at the hearing.

"I tell you now, with great emphasis, that that story is true - every word of it," Cooke said at the hearing in Toronto, arguing that Ford had been given ample opportunity to respond to the report before it was published.

Ford did not respond to requests from Reuters for comment.

The Toronto Star story, released just hours after U.S. gossip blog Gawker said it had seen a cellphone video that appeared to show Rob Ford smoking a substance from a small glass pipe, prompted a storm of media coverage in Canada and abroad.

The Star said two of its reporters had seen the video weeks before the Gawker report, and that individuals had offered to sell the video to the Star. The newspaper declined to buy it.

Ford was elected in 2010, promising to control spending and cut taxes. But he has struggled to maintain the support of city council, which has final say over most city business, and has faced criticism for issues that included skipping meetings to coach high school football and reading while driving.

Complainant Darylle Donley said Ford was being lied about in the Toronto Star report, and that "the news should be concrete and proven truth".

No video has been released, although Gawker raised about $200,000 to buy it, and Reuters has not verified its existence. Ford said in May that he could not comment on "a video that I have never seen or does not exist".

The press council has limited powers to punish its members. If it upholds a complaint, the offending publication must simply report on that fact, and publish the text of the decision.

At a separate hearing on Monday afternoon, the press council examined a report from the Globe and Mail newspaper on ties in the 1980s between the Ford family, especially the mayor's brother, Toronto City Councillor Doug Ford, and the drug trade.

Doug Ford could not immediately be reached for comment. After the Globe story was published, Doug Ford called it "an outright lie" in an interview with local news network CP24.

The Globe, criticized by a separate complainant for relying on anonymous sources, described its reporting in great detail, arguing that its story was also in the public interest.

Doug Ford did not make a press council complaint, and did not appear at the hearing.

(Reporting by Allison Martell; Editing by Janet Guttsman; and Peter Galloway)

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