TORONTO – The Canadian Association of Journalists is alarmed to learn the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) has threatened CBC reporter Colin Butler with harassment charges while performing his reporting duties.
“Responsible, ethical, reporting requires that journalists seek out comments from individuals who are subjects of investigations,” said CAJ president Brent Jolly. “Trying to intimidate journalists for doing their job is completely unacceptable. Journalism is not a crime.”
The CAJ demands that the OPP retract its threat to lay charges against a reporter conducting an investigation, clarify that it will not intervene in normal reporting practices, and apologize to Butler.
Contacting a subject of an investigation — even repeatedly — is a critical part of reporting. The CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices under which the CBC reporter was operating require that, “To achieve fairness, we diligently attempt to present the point of view of the person or institution being investigated.”
This process is an attempt to give the person being investigated a chance to defend themselves, give their side of the story, or otherwise respond to any accusations that are being leveled against them. It is everyone’s right to decline to comment in this situation, but a reporter is not harassing the subject of an investigation by trying to find ways to give them that opportunity.
Aside from the CBC’s own requirements, news organizations are also legally required to provide subjects with a fair opportunity to respond to any allegations. The Supreme Court of Canada has held that “it is inherently unfair to publish defamatory allegations of fact without giving the target an opportunity to respond.” Journalists are obligated to try every reasonable means of contacting persons facing accusations.
This is especially important in the case of a public sector employee who has been accused of spreading misinformation related to her duties.
The Canadian Association of Journalists is a professional organization with more than 600 members across Canada. The CAJ’s primary roles are public-interest advocacy work and professional development for its members.