It’s been almost a year since I reached out to the Star to see what was happening with their complaint against the mayor. You may not remember it — it had to do with how Ford was excluding media from City Hall (and especially the Star).
Well, the much-maligned Integrity Commissioner recently released her report on the incident and decided that there was nothing to follow up on. In other words, case closed.
Unsurprisingly, no one from the Ford camp is so much as mentioning the decision. I suppose it must be a foregone conclusion now that Rob Ford gets away with breaking every rule and law out there, why should this be any different? And, of course, further discussions about the balance in the office of the Integrity Commissioner are completely absent. In other words, if she’s questioning the mayor and doing her job, then of course she’s irrelevant, biased, and just the scum of the earth. If she’s siding with him, it can be ignored so that she can continue to be demonized.
But let’s put this to the side for moment and see what the report actually said. First, some history.
In February 2011, members of the City Hall press gallery put together a brief note stating what they expected of the mayor as a public servant:
The Gallery expects that all of its members will be treated equally and fairly. As such, all media releases, circulars, agendas, notice of scrums and other events, and other official communications from the City of Toronto, including the mayor’s office, must be communicated equally to all members of the Gallery, without favour or prejudice.
Ford ignored this and didn’t respond (surprise!)
In December of that year, a formal complaint was filed and, indeed, Rob Ford was once again found to have been doing exactly what he’d been accused of doing:
The complainant provided examples of bulk distribution of news releases and statements made by the Mayor to the media that were not given to journalists writing for the Toronto Star. The Mayor acknowledges that these were not delivered to writers for the Toronto Star. A search conducted of press releases from the Office of the Mayor during the relevant time period identified the recipients.
The former Press Secretary for the Mayor confirmed that after taking office the Mayor’s flatly stated position was, “I do not talk to the Star.”
One journalist for the Toronto Star described the situation as an “underground economy” in information. Material was often provided on an “off the record” basis. Another journalist from the Toronto Star described the relationship-building with the Mayor’s Press Secretary as a “long hard slog” which improved over time.
And just to clarify:
The subject of the Mayor’s relationship to the media was discussed with many of those interviewed in this investigation. Staff members from the Toronto Star spoke about the difficulty of doing their work without up to date information about the Mayor and his activities. This complaint was not limited to the Toronto Star. Other journalists described the flow of information out of the Mayor’s office in these terms:
- “few and far between”
- “we aren’t kept up to date regarding what he is doing”
- “occasional” statements
- “less than once per week and sometimes once per month”
- “It is not as if we have a direct line to the Mayor”
- The Press Secretary is “inconsistent” in responding to journalists
On the continuum of “sparse or sparser” access, members of the Press Gallery said that the Toronto Star has less access than others. The media members interviewed, and those who commented publicly on the issue have said a number of times that a Mayor should be even-handed with the press and treat all outlets “fairly.” Others felt strongly that there is a democratic obligation on the part of elected officials to be open with the press and to be fair in access to information about their activities.
In the end and despite this overwhelming evidence, the Integrity Commissioner ruled in favour of Ford:
I conclude that on the particular facts in this case, there was no breach of the Code of Conduct by Mayor Ford. The reasons for this finding can be summarized as follows:
- There is an accepted practice of elected officials, including the Mayor, determining how and when they will grant access to the media, by way of interviews, answering questions during scrums or providing information about their views, outside of the formal and publicly accessible mechanisms that exist for ensuring transparent municipal democracy;
- The Mayor did not interfere with the access of Toronto Star reporters to significant avenues of information about the workings and agendas of City Council, the public service, or other councillors;
- The City of Toronto has an open access policy for disseminating information to the media and to the public;
- The Mayor’s personal policy of “not talking to the Star” was incomplete, with his knowledge and approval, as shown by the following:
- distribution of some bulk e mails to thestar.ca;
- distribution of most bulk e mails to other members of the Star Media Group, all falling under the direct supervision of the Publisher of the Toronto Star;
- distribution of all bulk e mails to the affiliated sister company of Metroland;
- the unofficial and multiple “work arounds” by staff and Toronto Star journalists, known, tolerated and cited by the Mayor in his defence.
- The originating story which led to the Mayor’s reason for not speaking to the Toronto Star was written during a political campaign and was newsworthy because of his status as a public and political figure;
- The ability of the press to publish, comment and otherwise hold politicians to account for their media communications practices.
So once again, Rob Ford smugly walks away from the fray because there’s really nothing in place to hold him to account.