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(Credit: Rossland Telegraph, screenshot)

After being criticized by the local mayor, The Rossland Telegraph wrote that it follows the British Columbia’s Press Council‘s Code of Practice, even though it’s “not a member.”

The Telegraph, a news website in Rossland, British Columbia, wrote that the local mayor, Greg Granstrom, claimed in a May 8 letter to the newspaper and the press council that the Telegraph erred and defamed in its reports on “the City Council and City personnel.”  Granstrom also also called for the Telegraph to fact check prior to publication.

The Telegraph noted that it recently issued a “retraction and apology” for an incorrect claim in a May 3 report, published in the comments of one of the articles in question.

In response to the mayor’s letter, the Press Council told Granstrom May 22 that the Telegraph “is not a member” and not held to the council’s code.  The council added it could “mediate the issue” if the Telegraph wanted, but the mayor would have to “file a formal complaint with the Press Council.”

The press council’s executive director Rollie Rose told iMediaEthics that Granstrom “never did file a formal complaint” despite the council’s offer to mediate” and the Telegraph’s having “agreed to have the Press Council act on” any complaint. “Instead he chose to let the matter drop,” Rose said.

The Telegraph wrote that after hearing Granstrom’s complaints, it reached out to the BC Press Council’s executive director Rollie Rose for more information about the press council’s practices.

According to the Telegraph, Rose explained that members must pay “annual dues,” and “publish ‘verbatim’ whatever decision the Press Council came to” in any complaints against the newspaper.  Rose also told the Telegraph that complaints are first compared with the council’s code.  “Lots of times that kills the complaint right there. Most complaints we’re able to settle between the editor and the complainant,” Rose is quoted as saying.  If not, complaints are “assessed for merit before being sent to a three person review panel,” and possibly an “adjudication by the whole board.”

The BC Press Council identifies itself as a “self-regulatory body governing the newspaper industry in British Columbia” to “promote ethical practices” and “serve as a forum for complaints against its members.”

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Rose told iMediaEthics that the council “has 130 members both daily and community newspapers, and one independent news website” and gets “between 24 and 30 complaints annually.”  According to Rose, the council agreed two years ago to start regulating online websites.

We contacted the mayor, Granstrom, to learn if his complaints about the Rossland Telegraph were satisfied.  He told iMediaEthics by e-mail that

The Telegraph ‘published’ an apology to Mr. Kumar. Not to myself however.

“I do not have a copy of articles that were published. The point of the matter from my perspective is that when an online paper makes accusations that have potential to damage the career of individuals with the only possible reason being to create controversy, to get hits on a website, to sell advertising. Comments that have little to do with news or reporting for that matter, in my opinion are the lowest form of  ‘tabloid journalism.'”

“Surely there must be Responsibility that goes along with the Freedom of the Press. Online papers that allow anonymous comments most certainly are not news media and merely ‘blogs’.”

We asked Granstrom why the Telegraph would apologize to him directly given the newspaper’s general apology and the error not directly relating to him, and why he “let the matter drop” as the BC Press Council said. We also noted that many  well-regarded newspapers like The New York Times and the Washington Post let readers comment anonymously.  He responded:

“The matter has been dropped and further comment is not in order.  Just because some newspapers allow anonymous comment, in my opinion, does not make it correct.”

We have written to the Telegraph for more information and will update with any response.

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