So it was nice to see about 150 media types turn up on a snowy, miserable night last Thursday for what was bound to be a public flagellation of the profession.
The Canadian Journalism Foundation had set up a debate on the Maher Arar affair – how journalists were used by anonymous sources to call him a terrorist.
Arar was listed as a panelist. But there were fears he might not turn up, having been maligned the week before, this time not anonymously but openly by an FBI agent.
Testifying in Guantanamo, the agent said that Omar Khadr had told him in 2002 that he, Khadr, had seen Arar in Afghanistan.
But Arar did come to the forum.
Bill Gillespie, veteran CBC security correspondent who was in Guantanamo (with the Star's Michelle Shephard and others) when the FBI agent testified, said that the reporters there had a duty to report what was said. Arar agreed.
Ottawa has owned up to its mistakes. The media haven't. Only individuals have – Craig Oliver of CTV and Jeff Sallot of The Globe and Mail have apologized to Arar.
Sallot, now teaching journalism ethics at Carleton University, told the Toronto gathering that journalists must rethink their relationship with unnamed sources:
"Are our sources in a position to know the truth? Do we give them a platform without letting the readers know what their vested interests are? If sources have turned out not to have been truthful, do we still have to honour our obligations" to keep their identity secret?