2. What do some of the major Canadian media organisations have to say about objectivity, impartiality and social media use?  A sampling of current Canadian codes of conduct for journalists: CBC’s Journalistic Standards and Practices; the Globe and Mail’s Editorial Codes of Conduct; the Toronto Star’s Torstar Journalistic Standards Guide

The CBC’s manual of Journalistic Standards and Practices is an expansive document, providing guidelines on everything from covering police and crime stories to the correct use of language.   Five clear principles anchor the JSP:  accuracy, fairness, balance, impartiality and integrity.  Impartiality is defined in the JSP as: “We provide professional judgment based on facts and expertise. We do not promote any particular point of view on matters of public debate.”1“Journalistic Standards and Practices.” Canadian Broadcasting Corporation/Radio Canada. https://cbc.radio-canada.ca/en/vision/governance/journalistic-standards-and-practices  All CBC employees, including temporary employees like Khan, are trained in these guidelines.  

Here’s what the section titled: “Use of Social Media” says:

When we use social media, we should remember two of our principles: impartiality and integrity. We recognize there are specific challenges raised because social media create an intersection of personal and professional roles and identities.

With that in mind, our journalists – including casual and temporary staff as well as interns – should consider the following:

The Globe and Mail’s journalistic practices are contained in a similarly expansive Editorial Code of Conduct.  Like the CBC, The Globe and Mail anchors its code of conduct in a set of journalistic principles: The credibility of the content in The Globe and Mail on all platforms rests on solid research, clear, intelligent writing and maintaining a reputation for honesty, accuracy, objectivity and balance.2“Editorial Code of Conduct.” The Globe and Mail. 2017. https://www.theglobeandmail.com/files/editorial/EditorialCodeOfConduct.pdf

Here are some excerpts from the section regarding the use of social media and online activity by The Globe and Mail editorial staff, 

While using social media, staff must apply the standards and principles set out in the Code.

All Globe and Mail staff members are personally responsible for the information they publish on Twitter, Facebook and other social-media platforms, including personal blogs. Journalistic accuracy, fairness and clarity should be the guiding principles of editorial staff in any public forum, online or otherwise. Do not post partisan, defamatory or clearly false material. You must not post personal attacks and should conduct yourself in a professional and respectful manner. Staff should be aware that passing along information, through links or otherwise, could be seen as approval or endorsement of that information by The Globe and Mail. Care should be taken…..While columnists may express their opinions publicly on a topic, staff should be aware that anything published via social media — even private postings — can become public and associated with The Globe and Mail. Editorial staff should be aware of the risks of libel, malice and bias and should remain temperate on public and political issues. This means content that would not be considered for publication should not be posted….

Political activity: The news operations of The Globe and Mail must be, and must be seen to be, impartial. This goal must be balanced against the fact that staff members have rights and responsibilities as citizens.

While private views expressed through voting or with family and close friends are acceptable, political or partisan views which go beyond your public-facing role should not be expressed in public. Staffers should be aware that even in private settings on social media, information can become public.Like the CBC and The Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star also lays out clear foundational principles in its Torstar Journalistic Standards Guide.  The Toronto Star is the only one of the three that does include objectivity as a general editorial principle.  Impartiality is prescribed as a foundational principle, but the guide is less definitive on how that concept might be interpreted: “To be impartial does not require a news organization to be unquestioning or to refrain from editorial expression. Sound practice, however, demands a clear distinction for readers between news and opinion. All content that contains explicit opinion or personal interpretation should be clearly identified as opinion or analysis, as appropriate.”3“Torstar Journalistic Standards Guide.” Toronto Star, 2018. https://www.thestar.com/about/statementofprinciples.html

On social media use, the Torstar Journalistic Standards Guide appears to give journalists more latitude to express opinions on social media, as long as they don’t take sides on issues the Toronto Star is covering.

Torstar journalists are always Torstar journalists.

Journalists are encouraged to be themselves and find their own voices on social media, but it’s important to remember that the content they post and the way they conduct themselves can have an impact on reader trust, the journalistic reputation of our newsrooms, our brands and the company’s public standing. This is true regardless of the privacy settings on a journalist’s account, their profile description or whether they consider an account personal.

This policy applies to all editorial staff across all Torstar newsrooms. Other newsroom and corporate policies, such as those governing corrections, ethics and the business code of conduct, also apply to social media use.

Here are the key points:

• Staff must not do anything on social media that damages the company’s reputation for fair journalism. That includes making partisan or offensive comments, endorsing candidates or — with the exception of opinion columnists — taking sides on issues our newsrooms are covering.

• Torstar journalists must not use social media to criticize or undermine the company, their colleagues or the work of their colleagues.

• Fact-based analysis by reporters is not opinion. In areas of reporting expertise, social media can be an effective platform for using facts to authoritatively point out lies, questionable behaviour, baseless claims and policies unsupported by evidence, even if doing so leads to a perception of being negative to one side of a public debate.

• Torstar opinion journalists have the same wide latitude to express opinions on social media as they are given on our other platforms.

In sum, for this section: three different takes on how far journalists can go in expressing personal opinions.  Some stances are more definitive and boundary setting than others, but they all share ‘impartiality’ as a foundational guiding principle for journalist’s social media usage.  And whether the word ‘objectivity’ is used or not, impartiality implies objectivity, making it clear that the CBC, the Toronto Star, and The Globe and Mail all give a lot of thought to the concepts of impartiality and objectivity, as they apply to journalists expressing their personal opinions.

  • 1
    “Journalistic Standards and Practices.” Canadian Broadcasting Corporation/Radio Canada. https://cbc.radio-canada.ca/en/vision/governance/journalistic-standards-and-practices
  • 2
    “Editorial Code of Conduct.” The Globe and Mail. 2017. https://www.theglobeandmail.com/files/editorial/EditorialCodeOfConduct.pdf
  • 3
    “Torstar Journalistic Standards Guide.” Toronto Star, 2018. https://www.thestar.com/about/statementofprinciples.html