In Canada, two recent Supreme Court rulings on the defenses for libel and forthcoming rulings on protection of sources have invigorated the debate about responsible journalism.

The Canadian Journalism Foundation held a Forum at the University of Toronto, Innis College on Feb. 16. The panel discussion on the impact of what the Court has called “the defense of responsible communication on matters of public interest” included media lawyer Paul Schabas and defamation counsel Peter Downard who had both appeared before the Supreme Court. The Head of CBC News Investigative Unit Harvey Cashore also weighed in on the implications for journalists as they pursue stories.

All panelists welcomed the two related Dec. 22, 2009 judgments Grant v Torstar and Quan v Cusson suggesting that they heralded a new era for freedom of expression in Canada and would give clarity to media organizations. There was less agreement on how “non-professional” journalists (bloggers and commenters specifically included by the Court) will respond.  The lawyers explained to the audience how the guidelines of the UK “Reynolds Defense” were referenced in the Grant judgment and adapted for a “made in Canada” approach to responsible journalism practices. Questions from the floor included concerns over economic downsizing of fact-checking and research resources, corporate influence over editorial decisions, protection of sources, exponential internet diffusion and the “collateral damage” of errors on reputation and privacy.

Related articles of interest:

“The responsible communication defense: What’s in it for journalists?

“Libel law reform: Be careful what you wish for“.