Originally published on Torontoist on July 19, 2011.
Toronto Star, September 14, 1977.
Oh, Sun Media, you want to be so edgy. From self-mythologizing as “the little paper that grew” in Toronto to launching your own bargain-basement version of Fox News, you’ve always prided yourself on being the rebel in the media room. Last week’s decision to pull 27 papers out of the Ontario Press Council (OPC), including charter members of the organization like the London Free Press, because the self-regulating watchdog has “a politically correct mentality” at odds with the trashy nature of your urban tabloids is a fine example of Sun Media’s cranky-teenager streak. We wonder if the move was motivated less by true dissent with the OPC and more by winning brownie points with the right or saving a few bucks on membership dues.
The Toronto Sun’s decision to join the OPC in May 1983 came at the end of a sudden membership rush that saw the OPC go from 24 papers at the start of 1982 to over 70. Suspicion was that the increase was spurred by the release of the Royal Commission on Newspapers chaired by Tom Kent, and by rumours that the federal government was mulling a national newspaper watchdog. The usefulness of the OPC was debated from the moment it was announced in late 1971—during a forum at the Toronto Press Club in March 1983, it was described by critics as a “toothless tiger” and a “mountain of Jell-O.”
Based on notes from other papers, the May 1, 1983, edition of the Toronto Sun was the first published as a member of the Ontario Press Council. Cover stories included Ontario Premier William Davis’s potential run for the federal Progressive Conservative leadership, lingering problems with metric conversion, and financial columnist Garth Turner’s apology for having declared a year earlier that Canada was in the midst of a depression.
While we weren’t able to find any statements in the Sun about its decision to join the OPC, we uncovered Globe and Mail publisher Roy Megarry’s reasons for signing up a few months earlier. Megarry’s decision was a response to “a growing feeling that those unhappy with the performance of newspapers in Canada should have another place to take their complaints than the papers themselves.” He claimed the Globe and Mail felt their internal system for dealing with complaints, which included an “Our Mistake” column, worked fine but that “we cannot, however, ignore the challenge that publishers must demonstrate their openness by participating in press councils which are financed by Ontario’s newspapers, that justice must not only be done in the press, but be seen to be done.”
That last point is probably lost on Sun Media, whose timing for the pullout may prove poor as media responsibility comes under the microscope with every new revelation that spins out of the News of the World scandal. But then the Sun might see accountability to no one, including their readership, as another sign of edginess.
Additional material from the October 14, 1982, edition of the Globe and Mail, and the March 31, 1983, and May 18, 1983, editions of the Toronto Star.