The nation’s largest newspaper chain says it’s tightening editorial standards after publishing a fake news story about the Prime Minister’s Office. A press ombudsman, the National News Media Council, dismissed a reader’s complaint in the case.
“Our mandate is to examine reader complaints against the backdrop of widely-accepted industry and community standards,” Brent Jolly, spokesperson for the Media Council, wrote a complainant: “Indeed, the error was unfortunate. However, the news organization has fulfilled all the requirements of membership to clarify the error and correct the public record. The apology is reasonably read as a show of good faith to readers.”
Postmedia Networks Inc.’s Sun dailies in four cities on February 14 published a story quoting a senior aide to the Prime Minister as remarking Justin Trudeau was dishonest and that Liberals “should be punished”. The story was published in Edmonton, Calgary, Toronto and Ottawa.
The Ottawa Sun version appeared with a headline Liberals In Turmoil? and stated: “Using the hashtag StandingWithJody, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s senior political adviser Gerald Butts tweeted Wednesday: ‘Whether the SNC case is clear illegal interference or a grey edge with regular government business, Trudeau has shown a lack of integrity, transparency and respect.’”
Then-Principal Secretary Butts did not make the statement. The remarks were posted by an anonymous author on a fake Twitter account @GeraldButtts, spelled with three T’s. The fake account also stated: “Liberals should be taught a lesson at the polls.” The account has since been disabled.
The newspaper chain acknowledged the error, apologized and published a February 15 correction in its print dailies. A Sun subscriber in Alberta filed a complaint to the ombudsman describing the article as so improbable it appeared editors rushed it to print without elementary fact-checking.
“The editorial bias is a likely cause for the rush to publish without complying with journalistic standards,” read the complaint: “I am a subscriber to the Edmonton Sun and I read it that morning. I immediately thought, ‘This can’t possibly be true.’”
“This was obviously a fake,” said the complaint: “Sun editors were only too eager to report this without doing any fact-checking whatsoever.”
Mark Iype, editor-in-chief of the Edmonton Sun, said the newspaper chain has since taken new steps to combat fake news but did not elaborate. “The error in the story was corrected online and in print as soon as it was discovered,” Iype wrote the complainant. “Postmedia has since apologized for the mistake and measures have been taken to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.”
“It was simply a mistake, something that happens at news organizations,” wrote Iype.
Postmedia Networks and other Canadian dailies seek federal subsidies under a proposed $595 million, five-year aid program to be detailed in the March 19 budget. Publishers in appeals to the Department of Canadian Heritage obtained through Access To Information described subsidies as critical.
“We need to…reaffirm the critical role newspapers like us all across the country play in Canadian democracy,” wrote one publisher. “This is the most serious crisis we have faced in our history,” said another.