On November 3rd, The Toronto Star, affiliated with the Orangeville Banner through its parent company Torstar, published an opinion piece with the headline “Forensic analysis exonerates WE Charity and the Canadian government“. Upon release, contributor Matthew Torrigan and the Toronto Star editorial staff failed to disclose that the report ‘exonerating’ the organization was funded by an American organization with extensive ties to the WE Charity.
Canadaland’s Jesse Brown, who first exposed the ‘WE scandal’, highlighted that the piece in the Toronto Star did not include the fact that the report was commissioned by the Stillman Foundation, a noteworthy donor of WE Charity. David Stillman, whose relatives have served on the board of the family foundation, was director of WE Charity’s US operations. Furthermore, as of reporting, Stillman is featured on the WE website and was a board member of WE Charity U.S.
Irene Gentle, editor of the Toronto Star, acknowledged that the disclosure should have been made by Torrigan and flagged by the publication itself. It was mentioned that they would make the connection clear in a clarification and a note in the column.
Concerns were also raised over the headline of the opinion piece appearing as fact, particularly when the Toronto Star has not independently verified the analysis. As of this reporting, only the note was added, the headline has gone unchanged. The note was added hours after WE shared the article and the news of its ‘exoneration’ through a tweet that restricted comments.
Many Torstar companies, including the Orangeville Banner, are participating in a program called the Local Journalism Initiative. The LJI provides news organizations with funding to hire additional reporters. This five-year program was initiated by the previous majority Liberal government in 2019 and closely accompanied the ‘media bailout’ that preceded the federal election. There have been many concerns raised with the Local Journalism Initiative, not limited to possible conflicts of interest when beneficiaries cover politics.
Matthew Ingram, with the Columbia Journalism Review, expressed that ‘big venture’ and ‘family-backed’ papers like the Toronto Star should not be eligible for LJI funding. Many would agree with this sentiment after parent company Torstar attempted to outsource jobs to the United States during the pandemic before being condemned and reversing their decision.
The newspaper lobby group in charge of administering the federal dollars, News Media Canada, included language in its LJI-funding criteria that favours established industry players. Jeremy Klaszus, founder and editor of The Sprawl, stated that “The Local Journalism Initiative (like the federal news bailout writ large) is still crafted by, and mostly for, legacy newspapers—a dying model. Innovation is penalized.”
Former leader of the Conservative Party, Andrew Scheer, said the ‘media bailout’ was meant “to stack the deck” in the Liberals’ favour. Just over a year later, a national journalism outlet benefitting from this funding failed to make the necessary disclosures when publishing an opinion piece that ‘exonerates’ the Liberal Party from a scandal.
As of this reporting, the Liberal party is still voting against The House of Commons ethics committee probing the relationship between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the WE Charity.
Reference Links – NEW DETAILS ON WE CHARITY ‘EXONERATION’
- Forensic analysis exonerates WE Charity and the Canadian government – The Toronto Star
- WE Charity projecting $25-million from sale of assets, documents reveal – The Globe and Mail
- David Stillman – WE
- 2020 Host News Organizations – Local Journalism Initiative
- In Canada, a government program to support local news tries to determine who’s most deserving – NiemanLab
- SCHEER: With Unifor and media bailout, Trudeau stacking deck in his favour – Toronto Sun
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