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Ontario Press Council to hold hearings on media coverage of Ford family

Rob Ford, left, and his brother Doug Ford, centre, pictured in Scarlett Heights Collegiate Institute yearbook photos from the 1981-1982 school year.

The Ontario Press Council will hold hearings next month about articles written by two major Canadian newspapers, including The Globe and Mail, about Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and his brother, Toronto Councillor Doug Ford.

The council said in its hearing notice that it will consider whether The Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star have "engaged in irresponsibly, unethical investigative reporting" in coverage of the Ford family.

One complaint was filed with the council over The Globe's May 25 article titled "The Ford family's history with drug dealing." The article – citing interviews with 10 people, including dealers and users of hash – reported that Doug Ford sold the drug as a young man. The article reported that Rob Ford was not "involved in a significant way" in the Toronto drug trade at the time, but that two of the Ford brothers' siblings have had ties to drug traffickers.

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The council will consider whether The Globe's article dealt with a matter in the public interest, whether adequate efforts were made to verify allegations, whether Doug Ford was given adequate time to respond, whether his response was included, and whether it was appropriate to include references to other members of the Ford family.

"We will address every reasonable concern about our journalism, and defend our approach to this story, which we know holds immense public interest," said John Stackhouse, The Globe and Mail's editor-in-chief.

A complaint was made against the Toronto Star over an article published on May 16 under the headline "Rob Ford in 'crack cocaine' video scandal." The council will review whether the Star article dealt with a matter in the public interest, whether adequate efforts were made to verify allegations, whether Rob Ford was given adequate time to respond, whether his response was included.

"The hearing is not to determine the truth of the issues reported, but rather to assess whether the investigative reporting and the article itself meet acceptable journalistic standards…" Don McCurdy, the press council's executive director, wrote in a letter on Friday to Doug Ford.

Doug Ford did not file a complaint to the council about The Globe story, but the council invited him to do so "as soon as possible" in its letter on Friday. Complaints from other individuals prompted each hearing.

The panel hearings will both be held on Sept. 9 at Ryerson University's Sears Atrium. The hearing on The Star's article begins at 10 a.m., followed by the hearing on The Globe's article at 1 p.m. The panel's findings and recommendations will be released later in the month.

The Ontario Press Council is an independent agency that considers complaints against 150 member news organizations. It has considered more than 4,000 complaints since its founding in 1972, and says it has ruled approximately 50 per cent of the time in favour of complainants. If a panel sides with a complaint, the news organization must publish the ruling unedited.

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