Nine Canadian provinces (all but Saskatchewan) and one American state (Minnesota) have press councils. The councils generally are funded by news organizations and foundations, and their members come both from the news media and the general public. Though they have no legal power to enforce their decisions, press councils receive and adjudicate complaints about press performance. The sole power of press councils is the power of publicity; news organizations are encouraged to publish press council rulings.
The North American experience with press councils is mixed. In the United States, the National News Council was created in 1973, but never really caught hold and ceased operations in 1984 (the story is told in Brogan, 1985). The news media in Minnesota helped create a state news council in the 1970s, but similar proposals in several other states failed. At the end of 1990, Minnesota's was the only large-scale press council in the United States.
In Canada, on the other hand, press councils abound. The first press councils were created in the early 1970s, largely in response to proposals for greater government regulation of the press. In Ontario, for example, a provincial commission investigating human rights in the late 1960s concluded that sensational coverage of crimes tended to prejudice defendants' rights to a fair trial. The commission proposed the establishment of a press council "to control and discipline the press and other news media" (cited in Clift, 1981). In Quebec, also during the late 1960s, the provincial government created a special legislative committee to investigate the impact of concentration of ownership on freedom of the press. Although the committee never made any formal recommendations, premier Jean-Jacques Bertrand made it known that he thought a provincial press council would be an excellent idea (Clift, 1981; Keable, 1985).
In 1970, the Special Senate Committee on Mass Media increased the pressure on the news media by urging creation of a national press council. Although the proposed press council was to be non-governmental, publishers perceived an implicit threat of direct government regulation of the news media. In 1971, Canada's first press council--a community council serving Windsor--was created. In 1972 the Ontario and Alberta press councils were formed. The Quebec Press Council, which had been in the planning stages for several years, began operations in 1973.
The second wave of press council creation in Canada came after the report of the Royal Commission on Newspapers in 1981. The Commission said that "newspapers which do not become enthusiastically involved in the establishment and operation of press councils are exceedingly short-sighted" (Royal Commission on Newspapers, 1981, p. 226). The Commission proposed a Canada Newspaper Act, which would have required creation of local press councils in communities with chain-owned monopoly newspapers (ibid., p. 249). In addition, the statute would have created a federal Press Rights Panel. Part of the Press Rights Panel's job would have been to "observe the performance of newspapers in Canada . . . and to