35 min. read
Ethical journalism is the foundation of Torstar news organizations’ integrity and is essential to our credibility with our audiences. Accuracy, fairness and quality journalism have long been critical to our newsrooms, and are especially so in this digital media ecosystem where trust and transparency matter more than ever.
This 2018 version of the Torstar Journalistic Standards Guide provides a comprehensive code of journalistic principles and conduct to guide us in our mission: to responsibly engage and connect with our readers on all platforms with trusted news, information and content to help make their lives, their communities, our country and our world better.
No code of conduct can cover every eventuality in the 24-7 production of news and information on multiple platforms. Common sense, good judgment and the journalist’s own moral compass must be brought to bear on any set of guidelines. We should be prepared to explain publicly what we do in gathering and presenting news and information and the journalistic judgments involved in all we publish.
All Torstar newsrooms are members of the National NewsMedia Council. The NNC considers complaints from members of the public who are not satisfied with the news organization’s response about its judgments. In adjudicating any complaint, the NNC considers a set of criteria that includes the news organization’s own code of conduct, generally accepted national and regional journalistic standards, and any other considerations deemed valid by the NNC board.
TO WHOM DO THESE POLICIES APPLY?
These policies apply to all Torstar editorial staff in the creation and publication of all editorial content on any platform. Any breach of policy can lead to disciplinary action up to and including dismissal.
These policies also apply to all freelancers when creating content for Torstar newsrooms.
Some of these policies may also apply to persons on leave. Staff should check with their department heads if they are uncertain.
Here are the general editorial principles that provide the foundation for this guide:
Torstar has responsibilities to its customers, its clients, its shareholders and its employees. But the operation of a news organization is, above all, a public trust, no less binding because it is not formally conferred. The overriding responsibility of our daily and community news organizations is to the democratic society.
Freedom of expression and of the press must be defended against encroachment from any quarter, public or private. Journalists must ensure that the public's business is conducted in public. They must be vigilant against all who would exploit journalists and their news organizations for selfish purposes.
Journalists who abuse the power of their professional roles for selfish motives or unworthy purposes are faithless to that public trust.
Torstar news organizations provide a forum for the interchange of information and opinion. They should provide for the expression of disparate and conflicting views. They should give expression to the interests of minorities as well as majorities, of the powerless as well as the powerful.
ACCURACY AND TRUTH
Good faith with the reader is the foundation of ethical and excellent journalism. That good faith rests primarily on the reader's confidence that what we print is correct. Every effort must be made to ensure that everything we publish is accurate, presented in context, and that all sides are presented fairly.
Journalistic integrity demands that significant errors of fact, as well as errors of omission, should be corrected promptly and as prominently and transparently as warranted.
Torstar news organizations should respect the rights of people involved in the news, be transparent and stand accountable to the public for the fairness and reliability of everything it publishes. Fair news reports provide relevant context, do not omit relevant facts and aim to be honest with readers about what we know and what we do not know.
Our core fairness standard demands that any subject of potentially harmful allegations must be given opportunity to respond.
Independence from those we cover is a key principle of journalistic integrity. We avoid conflicts of interest and the appearance of conflicts. Torstar news organizations believe in paying the costs incurred in gathering and publishing news. In circumstances where that may not be possible, we disclose information that could create the perception of a conflict of interest. Transparency with our readers about the potential for conflicts should guide our considerations about real or perceived conflicts.
To be impartial does not require a news organization to be unquestioning or to refrain from editorial expression. Sound practice, however, demands a clear distinction for readers between news and opinion. All content that contains explicit opinion or personal interpretation should be clearly identified as opinion or analysis, as appropriate.
Every person has a right to privacy. There are inevitable conflicts between the right to privacy, the public good and the right of the public to be informed about the conduct of public affairs. Each case should be judged in the light of common sense and humanity.
Here are the policies that guide our work:
ACCURACY AND CORRECTIONS
There can be no compromise with accuracy. Accuracy is our most basic contract with readers and is the responsibility of everyone in our newsrooms. Accuracy is grounded in verification, the essence of journalism. We must check and double-check all the information we publish, including information from all other publications.
Mistakes will happen. When they do, we correct our errors. Corrections serve the reader and they serve the public record. They are essential to building and maintaining trust with our readers. Anyone who becomes aware of a possible error has responsibility for alerting those responsible for corrections in their newsrooms.
Our corrections are guided by the core principles of accountability and transparency. We are accountable to our readers for the accuracy of the information we publish in stories, headlines, photos, cutlines, social media, graphics, data, videos and any other content on all of our platforms. We correct errors of fact in a clear, transparent manner on the platform(s) in which the error was published, as promptly as possible. We make clear to readers the correct information and the context and magnitude of the mistake. Published corrections do not ascribe blame within our news organizations.
On all of our platforms, it should be clear to readers how to report a possible error.
You can find our corrections here.
ANONYMITY AND CONFIDENTIAL SOURCES
The public interest is best served when news sources are identified by their full names. We should be aggressive in pressing sources to put information on the record and should seek independently to corroborate off-the-record information.
We do not provide anonymity to those who attack individuals or organizations or engage in speculation — the unattributed cheap shot. People under attack in our publications have the right to know their accusers.
There are times when reporters need confidential sources to serve readers and democracy. Responsible journalism in the public interest often depends on these confidential sources who give journalists information that powerful people seek to keep secret. There are times also when some sources, such as underage or other vulnerable people, may require anonymity in telling their stories.
Torstar journalists must discuss using confidential sources with their department head, and in some cases the newsroom’s most senior editor. They must always reveal the source’s identity to editors, and provide a compelling argument for why the source will not be named in news reports. Senior editors have responsibility to work with reporters to assess the credibility of all sources including confidential sources.
Once any promise is made to grant anonymity, we protect our source, only revealing their identity with that person’s permission.
Published articles must explain why sources have been granted anonymity and why we consider them authoritative and credible. Confidential sources should have first-hand knowledge of the information and this must be conveyed to the reader. We should publish as much information as possible about the source — including why they sought confidentiality — without revealing identity.
The definitions and ground rules for not naming a source must be discussed with sources. Any further promises made or deals brokered with any source must be discussed in advance with senior editors and are subject to the following:
Composites, where several sources are compiled into one person, are not used. Pseudonyms are used only rarely, with a senior editor’s permission, and must be declared as such in stories.
The source and the journalist must be clear on what has been agreed to and that agreement must be shared with the department manager. Torstar journalists keep their promises.
ATTRIBUTION AND PLAGIARISM
We do not present other media’s reporting as our own or publish unattributed material from other sources. Plagiarism — the unattributed use of words or ideas from another published source — is grounds for discipline or dismissal.
Background information from previously published Torstar stories may be reused without credit.
We attribute and credit material to its source, including reporting obtained exclusively by other media organizations on any platform. If an article contains a significant amount of wire copy, then the agency and/or author should be credited.
Any information from social media and other digital sources such as Facebook, Twitter and personal or corporate websites must be verified to establish the bona fides of the sources, who should be properly credited for the information.
Inclusiveness is at the heart of thinking and acting as journalists. Torstar newsrooms aim to reflect the diversity of our communities and respect the human rights and equal dignity of all. We aim for a variety of voices as sources and contributors in our news and opinion.
We seek to foster greater community understanding about ethnicity, race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age, socio-economic status and physical/mental ability and do not perpetuate hurtful stereotypes.
Generally no reference, direct or indirect, should be made to a person’s race, colour or religion unless it is pertinent to the story.
In the case of a missing person or a criminal suspect at large, there may be justification for identifying race or colour as part of a full description that provides as many details as possible. Avoid vague descriptions that serve no purpose. At times, a group may make race a public issue. In such cases, the person’s race becomes relevant to the news.
Religion is important to the lives of many of our readers. Do not hold up one religion or set of beliefs as superior to another. Do not single out a religion or religious practice for ridicule or stereotyping or use profanities considered offensive to any religions.
We treat men and women equally and respect diverse gender identities, including people who identify as neither male nor female.
If a report is obtained from a credible source on the understanding that it not be published until a certain date and time, we agree to the embargo unless it is broken by other media. Generally, this does not apply to widely distributed email press releases that include an embargo date.
We respect the rights of people involved in the news, act with decency in our conduct with readers and those we report on, and stand accountable for the fairness and reliability of our journalism. Fair news reports provide relevant context, do not omit relevant facts, and aim to be honest with readers about what we know and what we don’t know.
We are obligated to investigate and publish all sides of the news we report. The essence of fairness demands that before publication every effort must be made to present subjects with all allegations — the sooner the better, and the more detailed the better. If an individual cannot be reached or refuses to comment, the article must state this and, if applicable, report any reasons why the opportunity to comment was refused. Rebuttals and unsuccessful attempts to reach subjects should be prominent, not buried.
News reports should be straightforward and not indulge in inferences or use words such as “claimed” in a pejorative manner.
Torstar newsrooms generally do not publish articles about bomb scares and related hoaxes. Exceptions may be made if the scare becomes a significant public event.
IDENTIFYING OURSELVES AND UNDERCOVER REPORTING
Torstar journalists must clearly identify themselves as journalists gathering information for possible publication, be it in person, on the telephone, by email or through social media platforms. This is the most basic contract between a journalist and a source - the foundation of informed consent in journalism.
Undercover reporting, photography and surveillance video should be used rarely, and a case must be made that the story to be uncovered is of significant public interest and the event to be investigated is a sustained, consistent practice, not a “gotcha.” Advance approval by senior editors of any undercover work is required.
In such cases, the extent of and reason for the deception should be clearly communicated in the resulting published reports.
Cameras and audio recorders should not be concealed except in unusual circumstances and only with the approval of senior editors. It is permissible to record telephone interviews without a source’s knowledge to provide an accurate record of a conversation but these recordings should not be used for other purposes, such as being replayed on radio or on our websites.
KIDNAPPINGS AND HOSTAGE TAKINGS
In certain cases involving kidnapping, hostage taking and/or terrorism, when publication could endanger someone’s life, we should put the victim’s safety first. Decisions to withhold news in such cases must be approved by senior editors.
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
In line with our commitment to engage and connect our communities and reflect a diversity of views, Torstar news organizations aim to publish a representative sample of the letters to the editor they receive, striving to reflect the many sides of any issue. Preference is given to ordinary readers over professional letter writers, special interest groups and public figures. We reserve the right to edit letters for length, style and clarity.
Letter writers have the last word; that means columnists must not attack or rebut letter writers in subsequent published articles. Exceptions may be made if the letter writers are public figures.
Except when necessary for legal reasons, letters criticizing a Torstar employee’s work should not be published without such criticism being reviewed with the employee before publication, if it is practical to do so.
MULTIMEDIA AND VISUAL JOURNALISM
Multimedia work documents reality and generally should not depict contrived situations. Any photo illustrations or staged situations should be clearly labelled for readers.
Torstar photojournalists and videographers must respect the moment in aiming to capture reality. If the moment passes without being recorded, it should not be restaged in order to make an image. All ambient sound during the shooting of news, features or documentaries should be collected on site. Canned sound effects must not be used and presented as reality.
Editors must select and crop photos and consult with photographers to bring out the most accurate, truthful account of each situation. While digital manipulation is permissible to improve technical quality, any alteration or enhancement that renders a photograph inaccurate or misleading is forbidden.
When editing any multimedia content, care must be taken not to manipulate the story, distort reality or mislead. In editing audio files, words may not be inserted or rearranged to mislead or change the intent and context of the interview and/or action. Ambient sound collected in one location must not be used with footage gathered elsewhere.
Editors must verify the authenticity of handout photos and images sourced from social media. Except in rare instances, cutlines or credit lines must identify the source of such photographs.
NEWS AND OPINIONS
Torstar newsrooms clearly label content on all platforms to draw a clear line between news and opinion.
News content is verified information based on the impartial reporting of facts, either observed by reporters or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources. News reports do not include the opinion of the author.
Opinion articles are based on personal interpretation and judgment of facts. Opinion journalists have wide latitude to express their own views, subject to standards of taste and laws of libel, including views directly contrary to the editorial views of Torstar news organizations.
This glossary provides definitions for the various types of news and opinion content we publish.
Analysis:A critical or contextual examination of an important and topical issue based on factual reporting. It provides an explanation of the impact or meaning of news events and draws on the authority and expertise of the writer. Analysis articles do not contain the author’s opinions.
Investigation:In-depth reporting in the public interest that reveals wrongdoing and/or systemic problems, holds those in power accountable and promotes positive change.
Editorial:An article that presents a point of view reflecting the news organization's position on an issue of public interest. Editorials are not meant to be a neutral presentation of the facts. They are written by journalists who are expressing the view of the news organization. As an editorial serves to present the company’s voice, there is no individual byline.
Opinion: Articles based on the author’s interpretations and judgments of facts, data and events. Opinion articles include columns written by staff and commentary from non-staff contributors. Opinion journalists have wide latitude to express their own views including views directly contrary to the news organization's editorial views, as long as they fall within the boundaries of taste and laws of libel. Columnists should not engage in personal axe-grinding or internecine debates with other columnists who write for their own or other publications.
Advice:An advice article reflects the opinion of the author, who provides guidance or direction on a topic based on their expertise as well as their personal interpretations and judgments of facts.
Blog:An online journal updated regularly by a journalist or editorial department that supplements news coverage. Blogs are usually informal or conversational in style and may reflect a writer’s opinions, subject to the rights and responsibilities of fair comment.
First person:Narratives exploring an author’s insights, observations or thoughts based on that individual’s personal experience and opinions.
Readers’ letters:A selection of letters by readers expressing a point of view, usually concerning a recently published article or current event.
Review:A critical assessment of the merits of a subject, such as art, film, music, television, food or literature. Reviews are based on the writer’s informed/expert opinion.
Torstar newsrooms do not pay for information other than standard fees for syndicated trusted news services, photographs, videos, book excerpts and freelance stories.
Torstar newsrooms do not mislead readers by suggesting our journalists or freelancers were someplace they were not.
POLLS, REPORTS AND STUDIES
In reporting polls, we must give readers full context: names of the sponsor and the polling agency, population from which the sample was drawn, sample size, margin of error, type of interview (telephone, mail, online, in-home), dates when the poll was conducted, and wording of the questions on which the story focuses.
Some polls are misleading. We should be particularly skeptical of polls sponsored by special interest groups, which may be slanted to produce an answer favourable to the interest group.
Articles on reports and studies should include information on who funded them. As much information as possible should be published about the methodology so readers can judge the credibility of the study, especially the sample size, the geographic area and time period, the group surveyed or studied, and how the data was selected.
Reports of studies should generally be based on peer-reviewed, reputable journals and should include independent comment.
Conflicts between the public’s right to know and individuals’ reasonable expectation of privacy are inevitable in the gathering and publishing of news, but common sense, our duty to report in the public interest and some measure of compassion should govern our judgment.
Children and teenagers — particularly those under the age of 16 who may not fully understand the implications of speaking to the media — command a special sensitivity.
So, too, do those experiencing tragedy or grief. People should be treated with sensitivity during times of grief or trauma.
Visual journalists should be sensitive when photographing children under 16 without permission of a parent or guardian. A decision on publishing or posting any such images will be made by a senior editor who will consider all circumstances, including the public interest.
We keep our promises. Torstar journalists must receive full approval of senior editors before any promises can be made to a source or subject.
We do not make promises to sources or subjects about whether or when a story will be published; how a story, photograph or video will be displayed; the prominence it will be given; or what any aspect of the report will say.
Journalists should not promise to read back an article to sources, unless this has been approved by senior editors.
What appears inside quotation marks in published articles must be an accurate representation of what was written or said. Grammatical errors can be corrected and some idiosyncratic expressions of speech can be omitted.
Paraphrasing is acceptable and even preferable if the accuracy of a direct quote cannot be verified, but any paraphrasing must fairly reflect the source’s words.
Circumstances and context for quotes, including whether the comment was in response to a question and whether it came from email or social media, should be provided when relevant. If quotes appear out of sequence, changes in circumstance and context should be reported. Circumstance and context include body language, facial expressions, audience and inflection.
Quotes cited from interviews conducted through a translator must be identified as such.
Reconstructed dialogue must be cleared by a senior editor and should be published only with the acknowledgment that it is reconstructed from a source’s memory. The source should be named.
REMOVAL REQUESTS (UNPUBLISHING)
Except in rare, often legal, circumstances — which must be agreed upon by senior editors — we do not remove content from our websites or archives. Fairness to those named in the news means there may be rare cases in which senior editors agree to remove content because it is judged to be the humane thing to do in the circumstances. Any decision to remove published content should be weighed against the public’s right to know and the historical record.
Torstar journalists are always Torstar journalists.
Journalists are encouraged to be themselves and find their own voices on social media, but it’s important to remember that the content they post and the way they conduct themselves can have an impact on reader trust, the journalistic reputation of our newsrooms, our brands and the company’s public standing. This is true regardless of the privacy settings on a journalist’s account, their profile description or whether they consider an account personal.
This policy applies to all editorial staff across all Torstar newsrooms. Other newsroom and corporate policies, such as those governing corrections, ethics and the business code of conduct, also apply to social media use.
Here are the key points:
Staff must not do anything on social media that damages the company’s reputation for fair journalism. That includes making partisan or offensive comments, endorsing candidates or — with the exception of opinion columnists — taking sides on issues our newsrooms are covering.
Torstar journalists must not use social media to criticize or undermine the company, their colleagues or the work of their colleagues.
Fact-based analysis by reporters is not opinion. In areas of reporting expertise, social media can be an effective platform for using facts to authoritatively point out lies, questionable behaviour, baseless claims and policies unsupported by evidence, even if doing so leads to a perception of being negative to one side of a public debate.
Torstar opinion journalists have the same wide latitude to express opinions on social media as they are given on our other platforms.
Torstar journalists must not purchase followers or pay for any service to artificially inflate their social media following.
Except for reporting purposes, Torstar journalists must not join partisan groups on Facebook or elsewhere — even if those groups are marked “secret.” Journalists should not use social media accounts to register for partisan events. If they wish to join a group for reporting purposes, they should identify themselves and consider how their posts would be interpreted if made public. When in doubt, journalists should talk to a supervisor, especially if they feel the need to join a group anonymously.
Staff should not use social media to make customer service complaints or lobby politicians. Their grievances may be frustrating, but they are likely to be treated differently because of their position.
Torstar encourages journalists to listen and interact respectfully with readers who engage them in productive ways.
If a reader’s comments are inconsiderate or could be considered trolling, it’s best not to respond. Journalists are encouraged to block or mute someone who is making threatening, abusive or harassing comments. It is never appropriate to threaten someone or direct profanity at them.
A staff member who feels threatened by someone on social media should inform their supervisor immediately. Torstar has policies in place to protect its journalists.
We should not shy away from writing about suicide when the story is newsworthy and considered to be in the public interest. Such reports should respect the grief of survivors and strive to provide information for others about how to get help. Generally, we should not provide explicit details about methods used or reach simplistic conclusions about why a person took their own life. Suicide stories must be discussed with senior editors before publication.
Our newsrooms respect taste and decency, understanding that our communities’ concepts of taste and decency are constantly changing and may vary across the platforms on which we communicate. The following should be handled with care in consultation with senior editors:
Swear words, sexually charged and blasphemous words:Unless they are in direct quotations, they should rarely be used. In publishing obscenities, we use short dashes following the first letter, except in rare cases, determined by senior editors, where spelling out the word in full is considered central to understanding the context of the news.
Racially pejorative terms:Again, these should be used sparingly and only in direct quotations, when essential to the meaning of the story.
Photos of the dead:Publishing graphic images of dead bodies, bloodied victims and traumatized survivors of bombings, massacres, torture and other tragedies can be justified when the image is considered to be historically relevant and/or advances the story in a serious and considered manner; when it conveys information relevant to the story; and when it is not intended to shock our audiences gratuitously.
OVERVIEW OF PRINCIPLES
Independence from those we cover is a key principle of journalistic integrity. We avoid conflicts of interest and the appearance of conflicts. In circumstances where that may not be possible, we disclose information that could create the perception of a conflict of interest. Transparency with our readers and openness about the potential for conflicts should guide our considerations about real or perceived conflicts.
These policies apply to all outside interests that could cause our audiences to question the fairness and independence of our journalism.
We seek primarily to ensure that our reporters’ reputations as fair-minded fact-finders are not compromised by public displays of political or partisan views on public issues, nor influenced by personal involvement or personal axe-grinding on issues we cover.
Opinion journalists have greater leeway on these matters, in line with the latitude to express their own views in their work.
All Torstar editorial staff should inform their immediate supervisors of any outside activity that could result in a conflict of interest, or reasonably perceived conflict of interest, that could cause our audiences to question the integrity of our work.
These policies are not intended to restrict the personal lives, interests or expressions of beliefs of Torstar journalists outside their work lives. Rather, as has been established through various arbitration processes across the company, they seek to ensure that any such personal activities and interests do not come into conflict with the public role of our news organizations in any way that could be seen to compromise our editorial independence and integrity.
OUTSIDE POSITIONS AND INTERESTS
Editorial staff should not hold elected political office, work on political campaigns, or write speeches for political parties or officials. Care should be exercised by all editorial staff, but particularly those reporting the news, to avoid open endorsement of any political candidate or political cause, including personal comments on social media platforms. Editorial staff should not make financial contributions to a political campaign if they may be called upon to cover the campaign. Bear in mind that such contributions are often subject to public disclosure
Editorial staff should not hold office in community organizations involved in activities about which they may write or make editorial judgments. This includes fundraising or public relations work, and active participation in community organizations and pressure groups that take positions on public issues.
Editorial staff should avoid participation in judicial and other official investigations into wrongdoing. Such inquiries are often prompted by our reporting. Our participation should end there. Senior editors should be informed if any employee is summoned to appear.
News reporters should avoid participation in demonstrations or the signing of petitions, including online petitions and social media campaigns, on political or partisan issues that they may be called upon to cover. Opinion journalists should discuss such participation with their editors.
Torstar editorial employees may not use their positions to obtain any benefit or advantage in commercial transactions not available to the general public.
CONTESTS AND AWARDS
Torstar encourages its editorial staff members to seek recognition for their work, but they should avoid contests that may create the appearance of a conflict. No Torstar journalist shall enter any awards program sponsored or administered by the profession, industry or community the journalist covers. Any entries submitted for consideration for awards or contests must receive prior approval of senior editors.
Editorial employees must not use their close relatives or close friends to circumvent Torstar conflict guidelines. It should be recognized that the involvement of a close family member in politics or some other high-profile position may result in a change of assignment. Editorial staff should not write about, photograph or make news judgments about close relatives or friends unless this conflict is made clear to readers.
GIFTS, TRAVEL AND PASSES
We aim to pay our own way in covering the news. Editorial staff and freelancers should not accept or solicit gifts, passes or favours.
Other than in the following circumstances, disregarding this policy is a serious offence and could lead to disciplinary action, up to and including dismissal for staff members and cancellation of regular work for freelancers.
Gifts: It is not our intention to ban the trinkets that sometimes accompany news releases, but rather merchandise that is of real value. Any unsolicited gift of more than nominal retail value — more than $25, as a general principle — should be returned promptly with a polite explanation. If in doubt, editorial employees should consult their department heads. If it is impractical to return the gift, it should be turned over to the department head, who shall donate it to an appropriate charity or institution, or the gift should be sold and the money donated to charity.
Occasionally, an editorial staff member will be invited to a gala opening as a representative of the news organization. It is generally not appropriate to attend unless the staff person has the approval of their department head.
There are several obvious exceptions. We accept reviewers’ tickets for film previews and theatrical performances. Passes for working media are accepted for some sporting events, but only for those journalists and photographers covering the event. Tickets occasionally provided by our newsrooms to various events are also exempt.
TravelWe pay for travel expenses. This includes sports journalists covering road games, travel writers touring foreign locations and entertainment journalists attending out-of-town interviews arranged by studios and promoters — three circumstances in which “junkets” are available and are increasingly accepted by other media organizations.
It is clear there are some stories, particularly in special sections such as travel and automotive, that are difficult or even impossible to cover without accepting a media rate or relying on a freelancer who has done so. Key principles should apply in such circumstances: transparency and news judgment.
Stories in which an editorial employee or freelancer has accepted free or discounted travel or accommodations must carry an endnote explaining to readers the particular circumstances of gaining access to the story. As examples:
Travel was provided to _________ by _________.
Some travel and accommodation costs were courtesy of _________.
Media rates for editorial staffers and freelancers should be accepted only with the prior approval of the section editor.
All trips by editorial employees who plan to freelance for the travel department must be assigned or the trip approved in advance by the travel editor. Staff members outside the travel department are forbidden from using their position as Torstar employees to gain access to travel discounts or media rates.
Other:Editorial staff members occasionally will be invited to sit on a panel or deliver a paper at an academic conference or policy seminar. It is permissible for the host to pay the staff member’s travel and hotel expenses, but any such payments must be disclosed in any reporting on that event. Before accepting such an invitation, staff members should check with senior editors.
Editorial employees should avoid writing about any subject in which they have a financial interest. Any employee asked to do such a story should declare the interest to their supervisor and another employee should be assigned.
Staff in our business departments have a particular obligation in this regard. They should not own stocks or other securities in sectors they regularly cover or could reasonably be expected to cover. Furthermore, they should disclose to their department head all holdings of individual securities (i.e., stocks, corporate bonds and mutual funds) in all accounts in which the employee has part or whole decision-making authority.
For freelance columnists whose work is based on their expertise as investors, there is an exception to this general policy. This dual role must be clearly acknowledged in a note at the end of their columns.
MERCHANDISE FOR REVIEW (BOOKS, CDs, FOOD, ETC.)
Within narrow limits, editorial staff may use a product for a short time to test or evaluate it, but any extended use of these products is not allowed.
Exceptions include books, recordings, foodstuffs and other products that are sent unsolicited for reviewing. All material not reviewed should either be returned, be donated to a library or charity, or be sold and the money donated to charity.
OUTSIDE WORK BY STAFFERS
Editorial staff members are generally free to appear on radio and television, provided this is done on the employee’s own time.
Such work is subject to the following conditions:
The department head must be notified in advance and the company reserves the right to veto such appearances.
When appearing in other media, a journalist or commentator should be identified as a journalist of the specific newsroom for which they work.
In no circumstances will editorial employees release or discuss in any other media, including social media, any exclusive item before it has been published by Torstar, unless explicitly authorized by senior editors.
No staff should enter into a regular commitment (i.e., weekly or more frequently) with other media without the approval of senior editors.
Before addressing an outside group, whether through an event organized by the company’s Speakers Bureau or independently, editorial staff must consider whether an actual or apparent conflict of interest or threat to the perceived fairness of our journalism exists.
Any invitations to make paid speeches must be discussed with senior editors to consider the potential for conflict or perceived conflict of interest. Generally, we should not accept payment from those we cover, particularly political or advocacy groups or commercial interests.
Employees should not accept invitations from outside companies or organizations to speak where the function is to attract customers to an event primarily intended as profit-making for that company or organization.
THE RIGHT TO A FAIR TRIAL
Torstar newsrooms seek not to publish anything that would jeopardize the right to a fair trial of a person accused of a crime. We also believe in freedom of expression and the public’s right to know what is happening in the courts.
Just before or during a trial, these principles sometimes collide. But at the time of arrest, we believe it is in the public interest to publish as much relevant and fair information about the accused as possible, and that reporting such information does not jeopardize the right to a fair trial. In general, the police theory of crime and motive as well as the criminal record of the accused are relevant information to publish at the time of arrest. We sometimes live-stream police press conferences about arrests and believe the public interest of doing so outweighs the potential for a highly prejudicial statement about the accused, such as a statement that the accused is guilty. However, we guard against repeating such statements in further reporting on the news conference.
We also believe that publication of new information about a case up to six months before a trial does not jeopardize the rights of the accused. The nearer to a trial date new information emerges, the more carefully its public interest must be weighed against the rights of the accused.
We should not publish stories that state an accused person is guilty. At the time of arrest, the accused is often unable to respond to incriminating information or evidence of bad character. Fairness therefore requires that editors carefully consider the quality and accuracy of information reported about the accused. Prejudicial or negative statements about the accused should be published only when an editor deems they are well founded and there is a compelling public interest in doing so.
Media have less leeway to publish information just before or during a trial. We must not publish statements by police that tend to incriminate the accused or evidence of the bad character of the accused just before or during a trial until such information is presented as evidence in court. Doing so could cause a mistrial and result in our being cited for contempt of court.
We do not report that an accused person has confessed until the confession has been ruled admissible and entered into evidence in court.
The names of people charged with criminal offences are reported in our news stories unless there is a legal or ethical reason not to do so. Wherever possible, we try to distinguish the accused from others who share the same name by specifying their age, occupation and general place of residence.
We believe it is in the public interest to publish the names of all adult parties to a trial in the absence of a publication ban, including names of witnesses and victims, except for victims of sexual assault.Please see, below, the relevant sections of our policy on children and crime, and child protection cases.
In the absence of a publication ban, Torstar newsrooms do not agree to requests to withhold names of those involved in a trial except in exceptional circumstances, and with the permission of senior editors.
TRIAL COVERAGE AND UPDATING REPORTS OF CHARGES
Stories about court proceedings must be fair and accurate. When one side makes an important point, journalists should make every effort to report cross-examination on that point or contradictory evidence presented by the other side.
Journalists should never speak with jurors about a case before the trial is over. Journalists can talk to jurors after a trial, but it is illegal for jurors to discuss the deliberations or how the jury arrived at its decision.
When we become aware that charges have been dropped against people who were named in news stories at the time of their arrest, or that the accused has been acquitted, we report the information promptly. News reports of criminal charges published on digital platforms will be updated with a prominent note at the top of the article stating the outcome of any charges.
Publication bans are routinely and automatically granted by courts in bail hearings, preliminary hearings and certain pre-trial motions dealing with the admissibility of evidence. While Torstar news organizations strongly believe that open courts, openly reported on, provide confidence to the public that justice is being done, we honour such court-imposed bans.
On occasion, a court will impose an extraordinary ban that goes well beyond the routine, such as a ban on publishing the name of someone accused of a serious crime or a witness in a case. On the instructions of the editor-in-chief, we may oppose such extraordinary bans in court when we believe it is in the public interest for the information to be reported.
VICTIMS OF CRIME
Editorial staff should show sensitivity when dealing with victims of crime and their families. Crime victims and their relatives should never be harassed to obtain their stories, identities or photographs. Journalists must clearly identify themselves and never use deception.
CHILDREN AND VICTIMS OF ALLEGED SEXUAL ASSAULTS
Torstar news organizations do not publish the names of victims of alleged sexual assaults, or anything that would identify them, unless such victims agree to be identified and senior editors consider it in the public interest to do so.
We do not publish anything that would identify a person under age 18 who has been charged with a crime. This policy is consistent with the Youth Criminal Justice Act. During sentencing, the court will determine whether a ban on identifying a convicted youth should continue after conviction.
The law states that a victim under the age of 18 cannot be identified once an accused who is also under 18 has been charged, unless the victim’s parents consent or the victim consents after turning 18. Senior editors should be consulted in cases where naming an underage victim may be newsworthy. Witnesses in a court hearing who are under 18 cannot be identified if the accused is also under 18.
CHILD PROTECTION CASES
Due to an automatic statutory ban, Torstar newsrooms do not publish anything that identifies a child involved in a child protection case, whether that child is a witness, participant or subject of the proceeding, or anything that identifies the child’s parent, foster parent or family member.
Statements of claim and defence filed in civil lawsuits are protected by privilege. When we publish a news report based on those pleadings, every effort should be made to contact the other side for comment. If the subject is not available or declines comment, this should be reported prominently. So should a statement that the allegations have not been proven in court.
SEARCH WARRANTS AND SUBPOENAS
Torstar newsroom staff gather information for only one purpose: to publish. We do not collect information to assist the police or defence, or to aid parties in civil disputes.
Editorial staff should report to senior editors any overtures by police or lawyers for assistance on a case. Senior editors and Torstar lawyers should be notified immediately if police try to execute a search warrant in the newsroom or at a staff member’s home, or if a staff member is served with a subpoena.
Journalists will protect confidential sources and should be extremely careful about how and where they store information that could identify such sources.
Torstar reporters, photographers and videographers are free to gather information or shoot pictures at crimes scenes provided they do not obstruct police officers or firefighters, or disturb or interfere with official activity. Staff should identify themselves to officers and be polite.
Police officers do not have the right to confiscate notes or camera equipment. If asked to turn anything over, staff should refuse and immediately consult a senior editor.
CONFIDENTIAL DOCUMENTS AND CONVERSATIONS
Senior editors and lawyers should be consulted before publication of stories involving confidential documents that may have been obtained illegally.
BREAKING THE LAW
Staff members must obey the law when pursuing a story. Rarely, the only way to get a story will be to break the law. Such action may be taken only with the prior consent of the newsroom’s most senor editors, and only when the story is of significant public interest.
Libel is injury to reputation. Words, pictures or drawings that damage a person’s reputation can be potentially libellous and open our newsrooms to legal action. Such actions usually result from stories that allege crime, fraud, dishonesty, or immoral or unprofessional conduct.
The law on libel is complex, but the strongest answer to any libel claim is the truth. In cases where truth may not be accessible, Canadian law recognizes a defence called responsible communication in the public interest, which recognizes that investigative journalism is part of the vital role of the media. The defence has two essential elements: public interest and responsibility. To avail itself of this defence, a media defendant must show that it took reasonable steps in the circumstances to ensure the story was fair and the contents accurate.
Whatever the defence, we must be accurate and fair in everything we publish.
A sincere effort must be made to understand all sides of a story and fairly represent those views. As detailed in our guidelines on fairness, we must give anyone who will be portrayed in an uncomplimentary way, or against whom allegations are being made, a reasonable chance to respond.
We should represent documents fairly. Journalists should never cherry-pick information to suit a thesis not supported by the document as a whole, nor distort the overall meaning of a document.
We should be wary of sources with axes to grind and always ensure that information from sources whose motives are in question is based in fact and can be verified independently by the journalist.
We should ensure any reporting on privileged statements, such as proceedings in the House of Commons, the Senate, provincial legislatures, municipal councils or their committees, courts, public meetings or hearings by public boards and agencies, accurately and fairly reflects those statements. Articles should distinguish between privileged statements and those made outside the event, which are not privileged.
The Supreme Court of Canada has also explicitly recognized another defence called “reportage.” This defence is available where there is a public interest in reporting that defamatory allegations were made. This defence may be available where the defamatory allegations are attributed, the story indicates that truth of the allegations has not been verified, the story fairly sets out both sides of the dispute and the story provides the context for the statements made.
When libel notices are served against a Torstar publication or staff member, we must note the time and method of service. The appropriate senior editors should be notified immediately and the notice distributed to the publisher, editors, Torstar legal counsel and those involved with that story.
An internal report must be assembled as soon as possible after receipt of a libel notice so a decision can be reached as to whether we should publish a retraction or correction. To limit damages, retractions and corrections must be published prominently within three days of receiving the notice.