National Newsmedia Council upholds complaint against the Gazette.

News 100 redFor immediate release

September 14, 2017



The National NewsMedia Council has upheld a complaint that the Burlington Gazette breached journalistic standards in printing a correction that was inaccurate and did not provide opportunity to respond to an allegation.

Complainant Denise Davy stated that a May 23 2017 article, “The Gazette erred – Director of Education Miller did not meet with MPP McMahon”, provided no evidence to support a statement in the correction that false information was “knowingly given”, and allowed no opportunity to respond to that allegation.

nnc logo with glassesThe complainant stated that she was called by the Burlington Gazette for information related to a school closing, and in that conversation she stated the director of education met with the MPP about a school closing issue. The news media organization reported her information. Later the same day it ran a correction stating the meeting in question had not occurred, and that “false” information was knowingly given. The complainant alleged the inaccurate correction and accusation impugned her reputation as a writer. She provided wording for an amended correction.

In its response, the news media organization said the interview with the complainant was interrupted and not resumed. It justified the decision to rely on a single source for the original story by referring to the established working relationship with the complainant. The correction article reported the director of education stated the meeting format was by phone rather than in person. There was no evidence of effort to verify either source in either instance.

The paper’s correction apologized to the director of education and the MPP, and faulted the complainant for the error. The news media organization denied the correction impugned the complainant’s character as it did not specifically identify her.

Reviewing the articles, Council found the news media organization’s view that it did not specifically identify the complainant was disingenuous in view of reporting her gender, occupation and position on the controversy. As well, the complainant was named and her photo was included in the original article, which remained easily searchable on the news media organization’s website.

No evidence was provided to support the statement in the correction article that the information given by the complainant was known to be false. The unsupported statement in question is an allegation of intentional error or shortcoming, with no indication there was opportunity to reply to the accusation. Council found the correction breached journalistic standards of accuracy and accountability by making a serious allegation and by failing to provide opportunity to respond to the allegation.

In upholding the complaint, Council noted it is commendable that the news media organization corrected information about whether a high-level meeting on a contentious community issue was held in person or by telephone. However, no evidence was offered to support the allegation that the flawed information was known to be false.

Best journalistic practice is to avoid single-source material. Adherence to that practice may have avoided the problem in the first place. In this case, the error was in the format rather than in the fact of the meeting. Because there was a breach of best journalistic practice, a simple clarification noting a reporting error would have been appropriate.

The complainant specified the wording of a correction. Because the NNC supports the prerogative of news media to determine their own content, it will not dictate the wording of a correction or compel a member to publish an apology. The NNC does expect member news organizations to publish or post NNC decisions in the case of an upheld complaint.

The NNC’s business is to consider complaints about journalistic standards. It declines to comment on the allegation that the complainant’s character was impugned.

The Gazette and the Newsmedia Council

Reach the National Newsmedia Council

The Gazette wished to add that “We have been judged to have erred and accept the wisdom of our peers.”

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6 comments to National Newsmedia Council upholds complaint against the Gazette.

  • Deb

    Media is a important engine that must be regulated to ensure it remains unbiased and appropriately represents the issues at hand. Clearly that didn’t happen in this situation thus the decision by the NNC. Moving forward, there are still so many great stories and great citizens to shine lights on and I hope that will happen in a way that reflects and respects the diversity of our ideas and opinions. i am agreement with Will in that I wouldn’t want what happened to the complainant to happen to me. I may not have handled it as well. Media can influence how people view a situation or a person and in this case it wasn’t correct or fair.

    Editor’s note: You have the opportunity to comment because the Gazette is paid for by a citizen. The right you have to complain to the NNC is also paid for by the Gazette. What you have to do is clearly say who you are and what your bias is – so that we all know.

  • Kerri

    I appreciate the article whereby the Gazette apologizes to Director Miller and MPP McMahon. The statements that any of the decisions made by the board were politically motivated and a result of back room dealings were unfounded in my view. That original story should not have been published. Those statements were all over social media (disgusting in itself) but a news outlet should not just take those statements for fact and repeat the innuendos.
    It is unfortunate that the apology article resulted in the complainant feeling the way she did. I wonder in hindsight, would it have been better for the Gazette to step back from the article instead of rushing to post the apology? In emotionally charged situations, everyone including the complainant would benefit from a 24 hour rule prior to posting comments.
    Attacking individuals (including other parents) on social media is not the way to gain support for your cause.

    • William

      Wise and insightful commentary. I’m dismayed how much of the innuendo and personal attacks generated in the social media echo chamber seeps into the Gazette. It might generate a lot of comments and page views, but people are getting hurt and our community is diminished.

      Editor’s note: Managing the comments that are made in the Gazette is a challenge. The objective is to give people an opportunity to express a viewpoint – and there are times when the value of the viewpoint is not always easy to ascertain.

      We reject about 12 to 15 percent – and then get hammered for doing so.

      What makes it worthwhile is some of the genuinely well thought out and reasoned comments. There are wheat kernals that come with the chaff. We prize the former and put up with the latter.

  • Concerned Parent

    Really? This is the length someone has gone to? Unbelievable. I too decline to comment on the allegation that the complainant’s character was impugned. That happened long before this article was published.

    • Will

      It is obvious that you have something against the complainant and have just confirmed that the identity of the person in question was known just as the NNC stated. I wouldn’t want that to happen to me.

      I appreciate the Gazette’s response.

      • Concerned Parent

        Hey Will, I have nothing against the complainant, i don’t know them. It’s their behaviour throughout the PAR that has allowed me to connect the dots. There are only a very few involved who have been this vindictively dogged.