Guest column: Windsor was home to the country’s first press council

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While researching through previous articles in the Windsor Star on 2SLGBTQAI’s local history, I first came across another Windsor that I think all Windsorites should know and be proud of.

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Windsor was the first place in Canada to establish a volunteer council to oversee newspaper journalism.

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It was founded in 1971 by Carl Morgan – a reporter for the Windsor Star who started in 1955 and eventually became the newspaper’s editor in 1977.

He spoke publicly about the importance of a press council and tried to establish one several times at the provincial level. Frustrated with lack of interest in the province, he decided to create a local version based on the British format created in 1962.

The newly formed Windsor Press Council had a three-pronged approach; to consider unfair treatment by Star, to consider complaints of a general nature about the content of Star, or to consider the actions of private or public authorities against Star, in particular with regard to the free flow of information.

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The first council consisted of five members from the Windsor Star and 11 from the community.

The purpose of the first council was to represent Windsor’s public life, including religion, medical, labor, cultural, youth, business, plus a wide range of political thoughts.

Among them, 12 members were men and four women. They were all white except Dr. W. Kenneth Rock, a leading physician in our area and a leader in the local black community.

Valerie Kasurak was a second-generation Ukrainian who represented Canada on the United Nations Human Rights Commission, while Carl Zalev was a local lawyer who was very active in the Jewish community at the time. Also included was Diahne Martindale, the only woman to represent the Windsor Star. Edward Baillargeon was the chairman of the Windsor District Labor Council and Jim Monk was the youth representative at age 19.

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Later that same year, six other Ontario newspapers followed suit and founded the Ontario Press Council. It was merged into the National NewsMedia Council in 2015. The NNC website recognizes Windsor as the first press council in Canada.

The first complaint faced by the WPC came from John Luck on January 18, 1972. His complaint was that the Star refused an ad in the personal section of the newspaper, even though it had previously been successfully placed.

The council voted against him because they agreed with the Windsor Star that his “ad was an invitation to the public that … was some sort of building plan that was not in the public interest.”

The first example of a complaint that the council took sides with was a Windsor Gay Unity complainant in 1973. Jim Davies and Steve Lough spoke on behalf of WGU.

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The two claimed they were discriminated against because they just wanted to advertise a dance they were hosting. The Star refused to publish it. The name of the dance was titled “Gay Dance”.

JP O’Callaghan, who was a member of the WPC and the editor of the Star at the time, claimed it was “not in good taste”. He concluded that the Star “does not criticize the right of homosexuals to meet and entertain. But it doesn’t feel like a newspaper is the place to advertise an event that society as a whole doesn’t accept as normal behavior.”

The council found the Star unfairly discriminated against against WGU.

WGU also sent the same complaint to the OPC, but that agency refused to hear the case because they had already ruled in April about a gay magazine Body Politic that wanted to advertise in the Toronto Star with the phrase “Body Politic, Gay Liberation Diary. ” The verdict was that the Toronto newspaper discriminated, but could still refuse to place the ad.

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Despite the decision, O’Callaghan ignored the WPC verdict.

Interestingly enough, on April 2, 1976, after O’Callaghan left the paper, the WGU was able to get an ad for their “Gay Dance” published. But when they tried again in 1979 for their “Gay Valentine’s Dance” it was rejected again.

The Star would only publish it in the classified ads section.

The WGU, now headed by Harold Desmarais, filed a formal complaint with both the Windsor Press Council and the Ontario Press Council, arguing that the 1976 ad had already been published. The Star replied that they had made an error of judgment and admitted.

In 1978 the local press council was renamed the Windsor Media Council and included local radio and TV. This was also the first in Canada.

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The Windsor Media Council lasted 27 years and at the time became one of the most prestigious community groups to be involved with. Unfortunately, the council ended in June 1998. Nothing local has ever taken its place.

Since his death, the Windsor Star remained part of the Ontario Press Council until it was replaced by the National NewsMedia Council. This makes the Star the longest running media outlet with a press council in Canada.

Walter Cassidy is a Walkerville high school teacher who also teaches at the University of Windsor’s Faculty of Education on how to educate LGBTQ students. He has done extensive research into local LGBTQ history.

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