TORONTO – Two newspaper stories detailing drug allegations against Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and his councillor brother were scrutinized in public hearings on Monday following complaints by readers.
The Ontario Press Council is looking into a complaint against a Toronto Star story that alleged the mayor was videotaped smoking crack cocaine, and another against a Globe and Mail article about his brother Doug’s alleged drug dealings.
- Tamara Baluja, associate editor of J-Source, live blogged the hearings. Click here to see the live blog transcript.
The independent press council said the two complaints will stand in for more than 40 in total filed against the newspapers over their coverage of the Fords. However, none of them are from the brothers themselves.
At issue, the council said, is whether the newspapers “engaged in irresponsible, unethical investigative reporting.”
The Fords maintain they are being unfairly targeted by the media, particularly the Toronto Star, but neither was in attendance at Monday’s hearings.
The brothers’ ongoing feud with the paper began long before the disputed story was published.
The complaint centres on a Star article from May 16, 2013, called “Rob Ford in ‘crack cocaine’ video scandal.”
The story said two of the newspaper’s reporters had viewed a cellphone video taken by a drug dealer that apparently showed the mayor smoking crack cocaine and making racist and homophobic slurs.
“We had been hearing about stuff like this for a year, and so we came to this with a lot of background,” Star reporter Kevin Donovan said at Monday’s hearing.
It followed a similar one by the U.S. gossip website Gawker.
Ford has never addressed the allegations substantively, but has said he does not smoke crack cocaine and that the video does not exist.
At the hearing, the Star’s editor-in-chief Michael Cooke said the paper tried to contact Ford a total of 14 times before the story went to print.
“That story was healthy journalism and it was in the public interest then, and is in the public interest now, and it meets all known ethical and legal measures.”
“The Mayor’s response was that the story was false [and] defamatory,” he said. “Well, the story isn’t defamatory. It’s not false. It’s true.”
A second hearing focused on an article published in the Globe on May 25, 2013.
The investigative piece alleged that Doug Ford had, in his youth, been a drug dealer in west-end Toronto. He has been dismissive of the allegations.
At the hearing, Globe editor-in-chief John Stackhouse said the paper began its research on the Ford brothers in late 2011.
“It’s important to note that there were no motives – partisan or otherwise – in our work,” he said.
Stackhouse also defended the use of anonymous sources, saying that the use of such sources has been accepted by Canada’s courts.
“Even for those concerned about the use of anonymous sources, the only serious alternative – that is, not publish the story – would have been irresponsible, journalistically and civically,” he said.
The council panel will determine whether the articles were in the public interest, whether the newspapers made adequate efforts to verify the accuracy of the allegations, and if the Fords were given a proper chance to respond.
It will also decide if the Globe was right to include other Ford family members in its story.
After hearing submissions from the complainants and the newspapers, the council panel will deliberate in private.
Its findings and recommendations will be presented to the full council late this month and its decision will be made public.