Manitoba Press Council ceases operating as papers withdraw


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THE agency that arbitrated public complaints against newspapers in the province has ceased operation.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 05/01/2012 (4097 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

THE agency that arbitrated public complaints against newspapers in the province has ceased operation.

The Manitoba Press Council ended its operations Jan. 1, when the last participating newspapers withdrew their funding.

John Cochrane, the council’s chairman, said council members were disappointed with the decision by newspaper owners but added the council was created by publishers 27 years ago, and it could not continue without their support.

“It was pretty clear they didn’t want us to continue,” Cochrane said of the group that included the Winnipeg Free Press, the Brandon Sun and the Manitoba Community Newspapers Association, which represents about 50 newspapers.

The Winnipeg Free Press and the Brandon Sun are owned by FP Canadian Newspapers Limited Partnership.

The Manitoba Press Council was started in response to federal government rumblings that it might create a watchdog agency. Instead, newspapers in some provinces, including Manitoba, set up and funded press councils.

The Manitoba Press Council consisted of representatives from member newspapers, an equal number of non-industry representatives and an independent chairman.

Cochrane, a former program director and general manager of CJOB and former publisher of the Winnipeg Sun, said the Manitoba Press Council had an annual budget of about $17,000, with the Winnipeg Free Press providing $14,000 of it.

Cochrane said as member newspapers withdrew over the years, the council came up with innovative ways to deal with declining funding, including sharing office space with another organization and eventually resorting to a virtual online office and meeting only when public disputes required a formal hearing.

Bob Cox, publisher of the Winnipeg Free Press, said the decision to withdraw funding was based in part on the council’s declining activity and the fact most news organizations in the province had already either withdrawn their membership or never joined.

The Portage la Prairie Daily Graphic withdrew several years ago, Metro never supported the council and The Winnipeg Sun as well as television and radio stations were not members.

Cox said the press council had not acted on a complaint in years and pointed out today people have many venues for complaints about news media, especially online, that never used to exist.

Marvin Krawec, a retired schoolteacher and council member from Portage la Prairie, said he was opposed to shutting down operations but said the council had no choice without funding or newspapers willing to participate.

The council dealt with two complaints in 2011, Krawec said.

“There seems to be a belief that the council lacks relevance and credibility, yet one could argue that the need for a watchdog over journalism’s ethics has never been greater,” he said. “If there is no avenue of redress or recourse for the public, then the public is indeed in dire straits.”

Cochrane said the council had little public visibility, and he believes that contributed to its decline.

Council members had hoped newspaper owners would postpone their decision until a report on press councils commissioned by Newspapers Canada is submitted in spring, Cochrane said.

“We thought it would have been better to leave things the way they were until that study was completed,” Cochrane said. “We were quite taken aback.”


Updated on Saturday, January 7, 2012 7:44 AM CST: Corrects that Winnipeg Sun was never a member

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