Press council to hear complaint over Mayor Rob Ford 'crack video' article

TORONTO – A complaint against a Toronto Star story that alleged Mayor Rob Ford was videotaped smoking crack cocaine will be the subject of a public hearing next month, the Ontario Press Council announced Monday.

In addition, the council will also look at a separate complaint against the Globe and Mail related to an article it wrote about the alleged drug dealings of Ford’s brother, Coun. Doug Ford.

The decision to hold the public hearings follows a deluge of complaints against the newspapers over their coverage of the Fords.

The two complaints will serve as representative of the 41 received by the independent press council — six of which were in writing, the rest by phone.

“The council has determined that the issue to be addressed in each of the two hearings is whether the newspaper has engaged in irresponsible, unethical investigative reporting,” council executive director Don McCurdy said in a statement.

At issue is 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.

The story followed a similar one by the U.S. website, Gawker.

Ford has never addressed the allegations substantively, but has said he does not smoke crack and that the video does not exist. He has also insisted the Star is out to get him.

In response to the announcement, the Star said it looked forward to responding publicly and transparently to the complaints.

“The Star has reported responsibly in the public interest on the mayor of Toronto,” said Kathy English, the paper’s public editor.

Darylle Donley is the complainant against the Star.

In the second hearing, which will also be held at Ryerson University on Sept. 9, Connie Harrison complained about an article in the Globe from May 25, 2013.

The investigative piece alleged Doug Ford had, in his youth, been a drug dealer in west-end Toronto. He has been dismissive of the allegations.

All the complainants, including the Ford brothers, are being invited to attend the hearings.

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.

The hearing will also decide if the Globe was right to include other Ford family members in its piece.

“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, editor-in-chief of the Globe and Mail.

After hearing submissions from the complainant and newspapers, the council panel will deliberate in private.

Its findings and recommendations will be presented to the full council in late September and its decisions will be made public.

The Ontario Press Council probes complaints against its 150 member news organizations related to journalistic practices and proper ethical standards.