Friday, October 09, 2009

Agreeing with Kory Teneycke: The First Post in a One Part Series

Harper's former communications director on anonymous sources:

But it appears not enough was done to check if this [floor crossing story] was true until after the story was published. The reality is this was simply a lead sparked by uninformed, partisan gossip that should have been dropped upon further investigation. The reporter in question, and the Toronto Star, should feel justifiably angry if they were misled by a source, and any source who intentionally misleads a reporter face natural consequences for their actions. However, none of that changes the fact that this story should never have gone to print in the first place.

This is one case, but there are so many others. Think back to the dozens of "anonymous sources" that used to dish dirt on each other during the Chretien-Martin civil war. And who doesn't remember the phony "wafer-gate story" about the Prime Minister allegedly pocketing a communion wafer. That story's origin was traced back to a single anonymous partisan source, and resulted in the suspension of the paper's publisher and firing of the editor. This goes on all the time, and in the name of good journalism, it should be addressed.

That is why there are tough standards in place in many media outlets around the world when it comes to the use of anonymous sources. The New York Times policy states that anonymous sources should only be used as "a last resort when the story is of compelling public interest and the information in not available any other way."

These sort of tough guidelines are there for the protection of the media, as well as the protection of those affected by stories that turn out to be less than true.

From lobbyist registries, to clear rules for government contracting, the Canadian public has long spoken out in favour of increased accountability and transparency in its public institutions. Perhaps it is time for a greater debate on these issues when it comes to our most important public institution - the media.

5 Comments:

  • Even citing one's sources only covers what the source is saying.

    Commentators need to go a step further as well when their sources recant: we will recall the howls about the body bags being delivered to certain communities in Manitoba.

    The folks within those communities have publicly accepted that these were ordered, and in fact 100 were ordered and only 37 delivered.

    Yet few commentators (some of whom were calling on the Federal Minister of Health to resign) have seemed strangely silent in light of these new facts. Where was their fact checking?

    By Blogger paul.obeda@, at 8:55 AM  

  • I really shouldn't post before my morning coffee. :) Let's see if I can make my earlier comment make any sense.

    Few commentators have corrected their stories. Most have remained oddly silent on the revelation that the community receiving the body bags had actually ordered even more such body bags.

    Since commentators are adding their own opinions it is incumbent on them to be as vociferous in their corrections as they were in their attacks. Yet I don't think any of us achieve that ideal.

    By Blogger paul.obeda@, at 9:35 AM  

  • Impressive action by the TorStar on naming their lying source, I say that as a government flack and former hack.
    As to Obeda's point, hell yes.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:23 PM  

  • If people started asking for their money back, when they buy a paper that knowingly prints a false story, things might change.

    Oh, I forgot. That could be why the shares have dropped.

    By Blogger lyrical, at 12:12 AM  

  • Err...lyrical? Newspapers make their money from advertising, not single copy sales. That's why there's so many "free" papers out there.

    By Blogger Party of One, at 10:39 AM  

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