Conflicted Twitter Source OK

Reporters may conceal conflicts of interest involving analysts they quote in stories, under a ruling by a national press ombudsman. The decision came in the case of a Twitter source quoted by Anja Karadeglija, a National Post reporter and journalism instructor.

“Generally speaking journalists are free to choose the sources they deem credible,” said Cara Sabatini, spokesperson for the National News Media Council. There were insufficient grounds “to support a complaint about a breach of journalistic standards,” she added.

The ruling came on a Blacklock’s complaint over a June 14 story by Karadeglija headlined, “Sued For Sharing Your Password?” The story purported to cover the subject matter of a three-day Federal Court hearing involving Blacklock’s lawsuit against Parks Canada for sharing passwords without payment or permission in breach of the Copyright Act.

Blacklock’s submitted Karadeglija “covered” the legal proceeding without ever attending court, reading the motion record and affidavits or interviewing either counsel in the case, and that her sole source and interview was a Twitter contact, Howard Knopf.

Knopf was identified in the story only as a “retired copyright lawyer.” He told the National Post the case “may put a big chill on the internet.”

The newspaper failed to disclose Knopf had a solicitor-client relationship with Parks Canada lawyers. The Department of Justice in 2017 Access To Information documents censored 172 pages of correspondence with Knopf, citing “solicitor-client privilege.”

Knopf is also a blogger who repeatedly disparaged Blacklock’s as a “copyright troll,” illustrating one post with what appeared to be a pile of excrement. Knopf’s blog in an 18-month period made 91 references to Blacklock’s copyright protection.

Blacklock’s submitted the National Post article deceived readers by presenting Knopf as a dispassionate expert when he in fact had a solicitor-client relationship with one side in a court proceeding. The National Post refused to disclose Knopf’s conflict.

“We are comfortable that he is in no material conflict of interest,” said Kevin Libin, executive editor with Postmedia Network Inc. Knopf had “no conflict of interest that warranted disclosure,” he said.

Reporter Karadeglija did not comment. She is a part-time instructor at the Carleton University School of Journalism in the “fundamentals of reporting.” Karadeglija is also director of the Ottawa chapter of the Canadian Association of Journalists.

The Association’s Principles For Ethical Journalism guide state, “We disclose conflicts of interest.” A companion document Ethics Guidelines states reporters must “make every effort to verify the identities and backgrounds of our sources” and “seek documentation to support the reliability of those sources.”

By Staff (photo: Twitter)

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