Thursday, November 15, 2007


Responsible journalism in the public interest.

From a Globe and Mail editorial today, 15 November 2007 ...

Truth has always been a defence in defamation lawsuits against newspapers and other media ... [but] truth is difficult to prove ... Thus, important stories did not always see the light of day.

Defamation law took a leap into the 21st century this week, in a ruling by the Ontario Court of Appeal on a former police officer's lawsuit against the Ottawa Citizen. For the first time in Canada, a defence of responsible journalism in the public interest is available when the news media are accused of defaming an individual -- that is, of harming a reputation. The news media will no longer need to prove in court the truth of damaging assertions they have made. They will need instead to prove a commitment to telling the truth in the story at issue...

... Reporting on documents before a court or local council has long been fairly safe, but showing enterprise without relying on such documents was much more of a high-wire act. That limit on reporting initiative harmed the public interest in free and open debate.

A commitment to truth is now the first line of defence for the news media.

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It's only in Ontario, at this time, that the shackles have come off the news media. Isn't it interesting that British Columbia hasn't, to my recollection, seen a lawsuit against anybody in the news media since ... was it Vander Zalm? ... sued a cartoonist for an unflattering editorial cartoon. Something about pulling the wings off flies, was it? Anyone remember? [I googled "cartoonist + sued" and got this excerpt from :

The only time that a Canadian politician successfully sued an editorial cartoonist and newspaper publisher was the William Vander Zalm suit against the Victoria Times. June 22, 1978, the paper ran an editorial cartoon by Rob Bierman depicting the then provincial minister of Human Resources gleefully pulling the wings off flies. But although Vander Zalm won his case in 1979, the verdict was overturned on appeal in 1980.

Franklin shook his head when we discussed the B.C. cartoonist. "It's terrible what they did to Bierman. Defamation laws should not be applied to editorial cartooning," he said. "That's what cartooning is all about - it is to ridicule. Take a guy who is operating in a place that affects us or law-making procedures, Well, there he is and he's bumbling. So you try to show him he's a bumbling idiot. A cartoon is not made to say nice things about people. The very idea of a cartoon is to make a guy look bad, to ridicule him, to show the quickest, simplest way you can that the guy is doing something wrong or that he is out of his element in that job. ]

Heh heh. I'm chuckling already. "Take a guy who is operating in a place that affects us or law-making procedures." There's a Judith Lavoie story just out, about the Capital Regional District slapping new by-laws in place to virtually place a partial moratorium on the Tree Farm lands giveaway around Port Renfrew, Jordan River, Otter Point, Shirley, to Sooke, thus giving people time to figure out how to intercede. Yes, take a guy like Rich Coleman, the Minister who apparently set that big giveaway (all over the province) in motion ...

Or Gary Collins. Or ...


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