Taking on the Media, Canadian Style

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been waging a one-man battle against Canada's newspapers, knowing that regardless of what he tells them during press conferences, they'll spin his words into their own liberal prism and diminish any of his efforts to make a case.

Guy Giorno was the chief of staff when conservative Michael Harris was Ontario premier (Harris resigned in 2002). He has engaged in his own fight with the Toronto Star, and won.

Reports Western Standard:

Guy Giorno doesn't have a problem with bias in Canada's press--though he sympathizes with Prime Minister Stephen Harper's claims that some reporters are anti-conservative (Harper, who's locked in a public battle with the press gallery, has said some reporters have it in for his government).

But Giorno does have a problem with ideology getting in the way of reporting the truth. "While [some people] can see through bias, an uninformed reader doesn't know what is true and what is not," says the former chief of staff to former Ontario premier Mike Harris. "The real problem for conservatives is not left-wing bias, but actual untruths when reporting on conservatives and conservative causes." And Giorno's done more than gripe about it. He's taken Canada's largest newspaper before the Ontario Press Council with charges of printing untruths--twice. And won.

Giorno claimed his most recent victory against the openly liberal Toronto Star in June. The item in question was a report on last year's inquiry into the 1995 Ontario standoff with natives at Ipperwash Provincial Park, when Harris was premier. Star writer Peter Edwards reported Sept. 1, 2005, that an official at the Ontario Native Affairs Secretariat had "testified that former attorney general Charles Harnick seemed sensitive to special native fishing and hunting rights, but those concerns didn't appear to be shared by . . . Guy Giorno."

In truth, the official hadn't mentioned Giorno. But when the former provincial official demanded a correction, the editors refused. After a few letters between lawyers, the Star agreed only to print a "clarification"--so Giorno, now a lawyer with Toronto's Fasken Martineau, filed a complaint with the press council. On June 6, the Ontario Press Council ruled that "clarifications should be reserved for statements that require further explanation but are not clearly wrong," and upheld the complaint.

In 2004, Giorno won an OPC hearing over a 2003 Star story claiming his staff referred to him using derogatory nicknames. That, too, was baseless, but again Star editors ran a clarification, rather than admit their error. "Both times, the sin wasn't the original mistake; it was not acknowledging the mistake after being presented with overwhelming evidence," Giorno says.

University of Windsor political scientist Lydia Miljan, co-author of Hidden Agendas: How Journalists Influence the News, says the Star may be biased, but refusing to acknowledge errors may also be "institutional survival." Says Miljan: "Nobody likes to be proven wrong."