Sunday, March 24, 2013

Law Tips for Bloggers (Part V)

Protecting Confidential Sources

"The Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Canadian journalists have a qualified right to protect their confidential sources, provided they can show that the public interest warrants it." 

Ground-breaking journalism needs confidential sources

Sylvia Stead - The Globe and Mail; Originally published on April 24th, 2012
Most original, ground-breaking journalism done in this country depends on confidential sources. While we focus on new media platforms, better presentation, video and more, the heart of the most memorable content comes from sources.

It starts with a strong beat reporter, someone who knows the key newsmakers, the politicians, the business leaders, medical professionals, police, lawyers and others. A good beat reporter demonstrates to those people behind the news that they can be trusted and that they are interested in telling accurate and complete stories.

From that trust, the source will either direct a reporter to a good idea, to important documents or to other newsmakers. At times it involves anonymous quotes or confidential documents leaked by a whistleblower. But more often it is just passing on some information that is not secret, just not publicly known yet and in the public interest.

Without confidential sources, we wouldn’t have known about the sponsorship scandal, Watergate, the tainted blood scandal. Those are the high profile cases, but every day journalism depends on those relationships of trust.

It is interesting to look at the finalists for the 2011 Michener Awards for Public Service Journalism. I would hazard a guess that every single one of these meritorious examples is based on confidential sources and certainly on the best beat reporting. Below are the examples quoted from the Michener website:

Canadian Broadcasting Corporation:

CBC Vancouver exposed a toxic and long-standing environment of systemic sexual harassment of women within one of the country’s most treasured institutions. By securing the trust of female RCMP officers, CBC produced a compelling series that achieved swift and meaningful results: an investigation by the Chair of the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP, a pledge by the federal Public Safety Minister to conduct his own sweeping investigation, and a promise by the new Commissioner of the RCMP to make harassment issues his first priority.

The Globe and Mail:

The Globe and Mail achieved clear results with its investigation into Ontario government policies for funding cancer drugs for patients. The newspaper’s dogged and exemplary reporting exposed flaws and confusion within existing policies concerning the funding of Herceptin, an expensive drug to treat breast cancer. As a result, the province changed its funding policy for the drug, created a new evidence-building program designed to improve decision-making about when to pay for certain cancer treatments, and directed Cancer Care Ontario to review its guidelines for approving new drugs.

La Presse:

It was only when investigative reporters at La Presse revealed the findings of two secret engineering reports that readers discovered that the Champlain Bridge in Montreal, the most heavily travelled span in Canada, was falling apart and in desperate need of replacement. La Presse shed light on an urgent public safety problem that had not previously been revealed to the public. The coverage had a resounding impact: it sparked an intense public debate and became an important issue in the federal election campaign and in October the federal government promised to build a new bridge by 2021.

Times Colonist:

The Times Colonist in Victoria used its resources and expertise to expose a stealth policy by the B.C. government that forced people with developmental disabilities to move from group homes to cheaper accommodation. The newspaper’s sustained campaign – featuring many personal stories of developmentally disabled individuals and their families struggling with government cutbacks – spoke for the powerless and the voiceless. The coverage forced the province to change course and commit $40-million to improve services, demote the minister of social development and announce policy changes. As well, the CEO of Community Living BC resigned and an internal audit of its operations were ordered.

The Toronto Star:

The Toronto Star took readers into the heart of an unaccountable and arrogant non-profit agency that runs Ontario’s air ambulance service, known as ORNGE. Stories revealed a stunning lack of government oversight at a critical public service where senior managers benefitted over those people the air ambulance service was supposed to help. The Star’s tenacious reporting led to the removal of ORNGE’s management and board. Air response for patients has been improved and a new accountability structure put in place. The provincial auditor general expanded his probe into activities at ORNGE and a criminal investigation is underway.

The Windsor Star:

The Windsor Star showed courage and determination in exposing a web of brutality and deceit within the Windsor Police Service. The shocking beating of a local doctor by a Windsor detective led the newspaper to court documents and to uncover more incidents that validated a disturbing pattern of violence against innocent civilians, unethical behaviour, and cover-ups within the police service over a number of years. The stories led to the resignation of the police chief, an investigation by the Ontario Office of the Independent Police Review Director, and an overhaul of the Windsor Police Service’s integrity and ethics policies.

To read this 'Globe and Mail' article in its entirety click HERE


--------------/Ground-breaking journalism needs confidential sources/

What media and others have to say?-
The Canadian Journalism Project: What exactly is responsible journalism?, Toronto Star: Ruling bolsters media’s right to protect sources, New York Magazine: Welcome to the Sausage Factory,
The Next WebBlogging vs. Journalism: The Ongoing Debate.

"Journalists should be forced to reveal their sources only when there is no other alternative to get the information and when disclosing identifies is vital to the administration of justice." The Supreme Court of Canada

>>> Reference posts:
- Ontario Libel and Slander Act R.S.O. 1990, CHAPTER L.12,
- Constitutional Law: 'Freedom of Expression in Canada',
- Grant v. Torstar and the defence of responsible communication: implications for bloggers and users of other online media,
- Law Tips for Bloggers (Part I) /Burden of Proof in a Civil Lawsuit/,
- Law Tips for Bloggers (Part II) /Defamation Law/,
- Law Tips for Bloggers (Part III) /SLAPP Suits/ &
- Law Tips for Bloggers (Part IV) /Hyperlinking and Defamation/

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