A Toronto Sun opinion column claimed Parliament members were anti-American, supported terrorists, and mourned the death of Iranian Qassem Soleimani.
The National News Media Council ruled that was not fair comment because it wasn’t based in evidence.
The Sun‘s January 2020 opinion piece, “Lilley: NDP MPPs sing a chant as dead terrorist honoured,” claimed two elected officials, Marit Stiles and Rima Berns-McGown, “were out in full support of an anti-American rally where dead terrorist Qasem Soleimani was celebrated.” A staffer from the two officials’ political party, the New Democratic Party, complained about the column to the National News Media Council, saying the politicians went to the rally “to oppose U.S. aggression,” not to protest the U.S. or support terrorists. Stiles and Berns-McGown are members of the Provincial Parliament in Ontario.
iMediaEthics has written to the Sun.
Berns-McGown told iMediaEthics she was happy with the ruling “but not with the Sun’s response to it.” She explained that the day in question, there were two rallies — the first was an “anti-war rally whose aim was to demand an end to the hostilities between the US and Iran” and without any mention of Suleimani that she and two other politicians attended, and a second one that was a vigil for Suleimani that no MPPs attended. The paper, however “conflated the two rallies for the sole purpose of smearing Marit and me,” she wrote to iMediaEthics.
Berns-McGown argued the Sun’s publication of the column was “intellectually lazy as well as unethical” and noted she has “solid and valued connections to the U.S.” She added that the Sun still hasn’t apologized or unpublished the column in question. “I’m not satisfied at all with their response,” she wrote. “Leaving the original problematic story up online is an unethical as the smear was in the first place.”
Stiles told iMediaEthics via e-mail:
“I welcome the National NewsMedia Council’s decision recognizing and validating the NDP’s concerns. Without question, the media plays a critical role in healthy democracies, including holding elected officials accountable. At the same time, we all have a responsibility to make sure we give media only accurate information, and do our best to stop the spread of inaccurate information. We appreciate the work of the National NewsMedia Council and its member media outlets. On behalf of my family and my staff – who had to deal with a lot of the fallout of the original, inaccurate article – I’m thankful for their decision.”
The Sun defended its column as “factual, or part factual, and fair comment,” the National News Media Council said, but that defense didn’t hold up because the council “has consistently held that the facts on which opinions are based must be accurate.”
The council noted that the politicians had tweeted that they went to the protest “to express an ‘anti-war’ point of view and a position against ‘aggresssion'” and pointed out: “There was no evidence reported in the article to support the statement that the MPPs were anti-American, or that they mourned the death of Soleimani.”
Further, the council noted that the column conflated information in a way that erred and mischaracterized.
“The news media organization’s response appeared to conflate an anti-war position with anti-American sentiment, and to equate concern about military escalation with honouring a dead leader. In this case, the conflation resulted in a report that coloured the reader’s understanding of the primary nature of the event.
“It is the NNC’s view that read as a whole, the article failed to accurately describe the event and facts reported did not accurately characterize the MPPs’ attendance.”