THE ELEMENTS OF "PUBLIC-INTEREST RESPONSIBLE COMMUNICATION": AN OPEN FORUM


What does it mean to do "public-interest responsible communication" (PIRC)? Canadian courts will judge verification efforts by libel defendants according to journalists's professional standards. But do those standards exist, and, if so, what are they?

In December 2009, the Supreme Court of Canada rewrote a vital part of the common law of defamation, providing public-affairs journalists with a major opportunityand a challenge. Ruling on the libel case of Grant v. Toronto Star, the court created a new defence. This site is an attempt to take up the court's implicit challenge to define the elements of "responsible" journalism on matters of public interest.

How this wiki began

We, the founders of this wiki, are a group of graduate students at Ryerson University. In a class called Standards of Journalists' Care – covering the laws and ethics of journalism – we spent six weeks in fall, 2010, attempting to answer the question, "Do journalists have standards?"

The fruits of our research and discussion are presented here as a wiki, rather than as a finished product, because we believe that these issues, far from being settled, require the attention of all working journalists. We hope our ideas will promote greater knowledge and more debate about the roles a journalist may play in producing news on matters of public interest.

And we invite you to contribute. If you disagree with us, or wish to add information or commentary, please become a member of this wiki and help its contents to evolve by editing any page or creating a new one. If the original author or anyone else wishes to edit the page you create or revise, they will do so. In the end, we hope and trust, the resulting pages will express a general consensus on the matter - for a while, anyway.

How to contribute to the wiki

To request membership in this wiki, please click here. This requires becoming a member of Wikispaces.com (it's free), if you're not already one, and then of our wiki (also free). You must provide your email address and verify it. This is a one-time process: once you have joined this wiki, you will be able to click the "edit" button at any time to revise the page you're reading - or to create a new one.

Please respect the open-source spirit of this space and use it in a shared commitment to helping advance the understanding of important matters of law and ethics for journalists. We will, of course, delete abusive edits and ad-hominem attacks as soon as they are drawn to our attention.

What courts will assess: Legal parameters relevant in "PIRC"

To adjudicate a libel defence of "responsible communication", a Canadian court must be convinced of the public interest in the matter and the defendant publisher's "diligen[ce] in trying to verify the allegation, having regard to:
  • (a) the seriousness of the allegation;
  • (b) the public importance of the matter;
  • (c) the urgency of the matter;
  • (d) the status and reliability of the source;
  • (e) whether the plaintiff's side of the story was sought and accurately reported;
  • (f) whether the inclusion of the defamatory statement was justifiable;
  • (g) whether the defamatory statement’s public interest lay in the fact that it was made rather than its truth (“reportage”); and
  • (h) any other relevant circumstances."

(Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin's majority opinion in Grant v. Torstar Corp., 2009 SCC 61, para. 126B.)

Elements and issues in responsible journalism: contents of this wiki

At this wiki's inception, we identified the following elements of, or issues in, responsible journalism and explored it in the wiki. Naturally, the list of elements and issues will evolve as the wiki grows.

The Discipline of Verification

Truthfulness

Weighing Competing Claims

Independence in Reporting

The Idea of "Balance"

Story Selection and Editing

Future pages (any member of this wiki may wish to attack these topics or any others)
  • Assessing public interest
  • A right to reputation?

Supporting Material

The following items explore general matters of general interest to the ethics and law of journalism. They originated as class presentations by the Master of Journalism students who founded this wiki.
The Public Interest
Subjects' Rights
What is News
Reporter's Methods
Where's the Truth?
Sources' Rights