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Canadian Meda Giant Censures Editorials Deemed Critical of Israel
Journalists Up In Arms Over ‘National’ Policy

Guy Tremblay

This posting contains several articles all related to the main

The Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)
December 29, 2001

Canadian newspaper readers are being warned not to expect a balanced opinion from their dailies after executive orders from the country’s largest media corporation were given to run a select number of national editorials and homogenize remaining editorials across the country so as not to, among other things, reflect negatively on Israel’s occupation of Arab land.

Recently, media giant CanWest Global Communications Corp., owned by Israel (Izzy) Asper and family, announced that beginning Dec. 12 one, but eventually three, editorials a week would be written at corporate headquarters in Winnipeg and imposed on 14 dailies, which include the Vancouver Sun and Province, the Calgary Herald and the Montreal Gazette. CanWest also owns 50 percent of the nationally distributed National Post, which will be subject to the new directives as well. Furthermore, in addition to the imposed editorials themselves, all locally produced editorial column pieces will be forced to conform to reflect the viewpoints of the CanWest Global corporation.

CanWest last year became Canada’s dominant newspaper chain when it purchased Southam News Inc. from Conrad Black’s holding company, Hollinger Inc., for a reported $3.2 billion Can. ($2 billion) The deal transferred ownership of the 14 metropolitan dailies and 128 local newspapers across the country.

The story came to light on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s "As It Happens" radio program. Bill Marsden, an investigative reporter with the Montreal Gazette, contended his editor had said CanWest was “very sensitive” to editorial content. “That is to say they do not want to see any criticism of Israel. We do not run in our newspaper Op-Ed pieces that express criticism of Israel and what it is doing in the Middle East. We do not have the free-wheeling debate there should be about these issues,” Marsden said, paraphrasing the directives.

As a result, 55 Gazette reporters pulled their bylines in protest at the decision, arguing that it was a disturbing example of corporate interference in the freedom of the press. They also argue that imposing editorial opinion across the country will limit diversity and dialogue.

In response, David Asper, son of Israel, launched a blistering defense of his corporate policy, asking “since when do reporters at the Montreal Gazette have a right of free speech that is greater than that of anyone else? They have launched a childish protest, with all of the usual self- righteousness … why don’t they just quit and have the courage of their convictions? Maybe they should go out and, for the first time in their lives, take a risk, put their money where their mouth is, and start their own newspaper.”

The editorials are written by Editor-in-Chief Murdoch Davis of Southam Newspapers, Inc. Davis himself, when asked by "As It Happens" whether one of the dailies in question would be able to publish an editorial that was absolutely contrary to Southam’s position on Prime Minister Jean Chretien or Israel, responded“No. It is clearly the intent that the newspapers will speak with one voice on certain issues of overarching national or international importance..."

But what is Southam’s “position” on Israel? Speaking to The Daily Star, Davis said“Well, there isn’t just one position there. That’s a very complex issue, but we are essentially defenders of Israel as the only democratic country in that region and one which is generally under attack from its neighbors and surrounded by many neighbors who won’t even acknowledge its legal right to exist.”

When asked whether Southam newspapers would allow the publication of an editorial which criticized Israel’s long-standing violation of international law and which called for a withdrawal form all occupied territory, including East Jerusalem, in accordance with UN resolutions 242, 338 and 425, Davis was frank. “(Southam Newspapers) disagree(s) with some of those resolutions.” However, he refused to discuss what exactly his corporation found unsatisfactory with the resolutions. “Look, I’m not going to debate the Middle East and the politics of the Middle East with you,” he said.

Davis declined to speculate on the content of any potential Southam editorial in terms of what he would or wouldn’t accept from his papers, but said“Of course we’re not going to run editorials that we don’t agree with. Editorials express our viewpoint.”

So far, Davis has written three such editorials, none of which discuss Israel directly. However, his latest edition, entitled “There is no negotiating with psychopaths,” attacks the “pathological” opponents to violence as a means in the war on terror and calls for the destruction of a range of “terrorists,” including “those who train their young to embrace suicidal martyrdom” and the hunting down of those who commit such atrocities, “whether they be in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria or Gaza.”

Davis defended the corporation’s right to enforce homogeneity of opinion in the editorial column. “In the editorials themselves, we would not expect the papers to contradict themselves, simply on the argument that it would look foolish, to say the least.

“Editorials are unsigned pieces within the editorial column clearly intended to express the viewpoint of the publishing company. Op-Eds, or signed columns or other commentary are completely different and we will express a whole range of viewpoints in those,” he stressed.

Furthermore, Davis rejected the notion that his corporation should be confined to agree with any kind of legislation, UN or otherwise. “I don’t know what your journalism culture is there, but certainly the journalism culture in North America is that the notion of a newspaper or a newspaper company taking issue with government policy is perfectly ordinary. We express the views that we hold (and) whether they happen to coincide with government foreign policy or not is a moot point.

“We embrace democratic, open debate, and that includes the freedom to disagree with the resolutions of the United Nations or resolutions of the Canadian Parliament, or resolutions of the Israeli Parliament or any other organization. That is what freedom of expression is all about.”

Others, however, are not entirely convinced by that argument and maintain that standardizing editorial column opinion across the country will only hurt freedom of expression. Catherine McKercher, journalism professor at Carleton University, expressed her concern. “Concentration of ownership in the Canadian media business is at an extreme level. CanWest owns 60 percent of newspapers and other media outlets, and what we’re seeing now is the result of this kind of concentration,” she said.

“I think most people in journalism find it, frankly, appaling,” she added. “It’s not so much the idea that anyone would want to trample on the owners’ right to write editorials, but the whole idea of a national editorial in this country is bizarre given that this is a country that is not only built on diversity, but one in which regional or provincial interests generally take precedence.”


The CanWest Chill "We do not run in our newspaper Op Ed pieces that express criticism of Israel"
December 11th, 2001

The December 2001 broadcast of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's As It Happens [Real Audio link] uncovered a disturbing example of corporate and political interference in freedom of the press. The program reported on a new editorial policy directive from CanWest Global, a leading Canadian media conglomerate, that impairs readers' ability to make up their own minds about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, among other issues. <http//www.canwestglobal.com/>

As It Happens reported that over two dozen journalists at the Montreal Gazette have pulled their bylines to protest a new policy imposed by the newspaper's owners, Southam Newspapers Inc, which is owned by CanWest Global. The new policy requires the company's main local newspapers to run editorials written at headquarters in Winnipeg by Southam Editor-in-Chief Murdoch Davis.

Bill Marsden, an investigative reporter at the Montreal Gazette, noted that up to 156 times a year -- about three times a week -- the editorial would be imposed and that the remainder of locally-written editorials would be required to reflect the viewpoints and stances taken by the paper's corporate headquarters.

Does this influence really matter? Yes, it does.
Firing ignites community's outrage
By Jeff Sallot
Tuesday, June 18, 2002

OTTAWA -- The firing of Ottawa Citizen publisher Russell Mills by absentee owners ignited a storm of protest yesterday in the paper's newsroom and among civic leaders. "Russ Mills wasn't just a good journalist. He was the unofficial deputy mayor of Ottawa," Mayor Robert Chiarelli said. Through his volunteer work for charities and fundraising activities for local organizations, ranging from a children's hospital to the public library, Mr. Mills won the loyalty and friendship of many politicians and civic leaders who had often felt the lash of a sharply worded Citizen editorial.

Mr. Chiarelli and other community leaders said the firing of Mr. Mills by Winnipeg's Asper family -- the owners of the Southam newspaper chain, which includes the Citizen -- raises disturbing questions about the independence of local newspapers. Residents of Ottawa deserve better than to "have someone in Winnipeg controlling the editorial policy of The Ottawa Citizen," Mr. Chiarelli said. "As long as it's called The Ottawa Citizen there should be a lot more Ottawa in it than Winnipeg."

Sources at the Citizen say the switchboard was flooded with calls from readers wanting to cancel subscriptions or otherwise express their anger at the sacking. The editorial department was in turmoil with reporters, columnists and other journalists worrying that the paper's political coverage will face close corporate scrutiny, thus eroding the independence of local editors.

Many reporters and photographers plan to withdraw their bylines for a week to protest the firing, said Tony Cote, a spokesman for the Newspaper Guild, a union representing journalists at the paper. Journalists and employees in other departments met in the early afternoon and decided they want to place a paid ad in their own paper protesting the firing, Mr. Cote said.

It was unclear whether the paper would carry the ad.

Former Citizen publisher Clark Davey and Chris Dornan, the head of thejournalism department at Carleton University, hastily organized a protest rally outside the Citizen's suburban office yesterday afternoon that attracted about 200.

Mr. Mills, who joined the paper 31 years ago as a copy editor and moved quickly to the top of the masthead as editor and then publisher, was awarded an honorary doctoral degree by Carleton University on Saturday for his service to journalism and to the
community. Journalism professor Lois Sweet, who wrote the university's tribute to Mr. Mills, predicted yesterday that there will be a political uproar over the firing.

If the Asper family felt getting rid of a critic of the federal government will help their friend, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, they underestimate the backlash that this move will create, she said.

Mr. Mills is to be the guest of honour at a dinner Thursday night to raise money for the Ottawa School of Dance. Merrilee Hodgins, the school's director, said she was shocked because Mr. Mills is such a prominent figure in the community. Dance is an art that encourages freedom of expression, and "I thought journalism was, too. But this smacks of censorship," Ms. Hodgins said.

Jean Pigott, who was a frequent target of Citizen editorials when she was chairwoman of the National Capital Commission, said she and Mr. Mills had become friends working together to promote literacy. "I'm indignant . . . We are the fourth-largest community in Canada and someone from the West does this to us," Ms. Pigott said. "You just don't do this to a community leader like Russell Mills."
What the Mills affair reveals about the PM, Aspers
By Jeffrey Simpson
Tuesday, June 18, 2002 - Page A17

Freedom of the press has just suffered a terrible blow in Canada from a combination of Prime Minister Jean Chrétien's personal furies and the lickspittle owners of CanWest Global Communications Corp. That blow illustrates the potential perils of media concentration and a de facto one-party state, both of which are so evident in this country.

The victim of the latest blow was Russell Mills, a respected member of the Ottawa community and publisher of The Ottawa Citizen. The day after Mr. Mills received a deserved honorary degree from Carleton University for his service to journalism and worthy causes in Ottawa, the Aspers, who own CanWest, rode into town and fired him.

Then, yesterday morning, they marched into the offices of Scott Anderson, the newspaper's editor, and reamed him out for the same reason they fired Mr. Mills -- for being too tough on their hero, Mr. Chrétien, whose recent fundraising dinner in Winnipeg was partly organized by a member of the Asper family.

So much for the Aspers' declarations of their newspapers' editorial independence and journalistic integrity. Their promises in those areas are as worthless as some of the ones they give the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission for their television licences.

The publicly given reason for Mr. Mills's downfall was a form of corporate insubordination; the real reason was the Aspers' craven attitude toward Mr. Chrétien.

They had already fired Southam columnist Lawrence Martin because they and the Prime Minister disliked his writing about Mr. Chrétien's attempts to get government money to bail out a hotel next to a golf course in which he had an interest. They dumped the publisher of the Montreal Gazette, Michael Goldbloom, for allowing tiny bits of criticism of Israel in his paper.

Then they imposed badly written and drearily argued "national" editorials on their Southam papers, including one that showered praise on the beleaguered Prime Minister.

Not surprisingly, fear and loathing about the Aspers now permeate the entire Southam chain of newspapers, except among corporate flunkies afraid for their jobs and pensions. (I know a whole bunch of Southam journalists across Canada, and not one has a good thing to say privately about the Aspers.) And now, the cashiering of a courageous publisher and the dressing down of a fine editor ostensibly because they didn't check with head office in Winnipeg before lambasting the chap at 24 Sussex Dr.

Little did any of us expect when the Aspers bought Southam from Conrad Black how creepy would be their journalistic standards. It almost makes you pine for Lord Black, although he didn't exactly give his editors free rein, either.

The Mills affair is just one among many that illustrates what can happen in a de facto one-party state. Cronyism becomes rampant. Abuses of power proliferate. Arrogance goes unchecked. People with federal government interests know who's buttering the bread.

The great and the mighty -- at least in their own minds -- want to curry favour with those who wield political power, and especially with the man who holds so much power in our system of government, the Prime Minister.

And all these perils of a one-party state with such a concentration of power become magnified with an extremely vengeful and increasingly paranoid Prime Minister and his friends who will get you if you cross them.

Other Southam editorials had harshly criticized the Prime Minister. But Mr. Chrétien doesn't read the papers in Western Canada the way he and his people read the Citizen each morning.

In firing Mr. Mills, the Aspers rid themselves of someone universally respected in the Ottawa community. Mr. Mills had supported a wide variety of charitable and artistic institutions, often turning over free advertising to these groups.

Mr. Mills had been honoured with various civic awards, including one for his paper's work in promoting literacy and the public library. He was considered the ultimate survivor as a newspaper publisher, having faithfully served various owners whose commercial and journalistic approaches he publicly supported. The paper had remained solidly profitable under his leadership.

But economics had nothing to do with his dismissal. The Aspers tried to make Mr. Mills sign a letter of resignation accompanied by an agreement to remain silent about the circumstances of his departure. He refused, saying he had been too long in journalism to sign something untrue. He was being fired, and he wanted people to know it and the reasons why. The quintessential company man couldn't stomach it, and that speaks volumes about his treatment and those who administered it.

A five-paragraph story appeared in the Citizen on Monday morning announcing his departure, but the story said nothing about the circumstances. A CanWest spokesman said only that it was an internal company affair, which it would have been but for the motives, the political angle, and the chilling effect it must have on other Southam editors and publishers.

They had already been put on notice that all local editorials must generally toe the line of the "national" editorials and memorandums emanating from Winnipeg.

They will now know that firings and reprimands will loom if they deviate from that policy.

CanWest's 2000 Annual Report states that
...[O]n July 31, CanWest announced its acquisition of all of the major Canadian newspaper and Internet assets of Hollinger Inc., including the metropolitan daily newspapers in nearly every large city across Canada and a 50% partnership interest in the National Post. We closed that transaction successfully on November 16, 2000, following completion by the Competition Bureau of its three-month review of the transaction.

The magnitude of these deals is unprecedented. Just a few months ago, the $860 million WIC purchase was the largest acquisition in the history of Canadian media. The $3.2 billion transaction to bring the Hollinger newspaper assets to CanWest remains the biggest media convergence deal ever consummated in Canada. The deal transformed CanWest into a $7.5 billion
international media company and the largest Canadian publisher of daily newspapers.

Note that CanWest Global has not just limited itself to the Canadian media. It additionally owns media organisations in Ireland, Australia and New Zealand.

The centralised editorials penned at corporate headquarters will be published in Southam's metropolitan newspapers in key populations centers in Canada -- Victoria, Vancouver (The Sun only, not The Province), Edmonton, Calgary, Regina, Saskatoon, Ottawa, Windsor, St. Catharines, Montreal, Halifax, Charlottetown and St. John's -- and will be reprinted in the National Post. Editorials will be clearly identified as emanating from Southam News, not from the various local papers' own editorial staff, who will be forbidden to alter or contradict them in any way.

According to Marsden, since taking over the chain of newspapers CanWest Global has encouraged all of its subsidiaries' editors to hew to a particular political line, resulting in less criticism of Canada's prime minister as well as the consolidation of a pro-Israeli perspective in editorials about the Middle East.

Regarding Middle East reporting, Marsden quoted the Montreal Gazette's editor as characterising Can West as "very sensitive," and went on to explain "[T]hat is to say they do not want to see any criticism of Israel. We do not run in our newspaper op-ed pieces that express criticism of Israel and what it is doing in the Middle East etcetera. We do not have that free-wheeling debate that there should be about all these issues.

We even had an incident where a fellow, a professor at... the University of Waterloo, wrote an op-ed piece for us in which he was criticising the anti-terrorism law and criticising elements of civil rights etcetera. Now that professor happens to be a Muslim and happens to have an Arab name. We got a call from headquarters demanding to know why we had printed this.

Now this kind of questioning goes on all the time. Our TV critic devoted half a column to a documentary which was run on CBC, <http//tv.cbc.ca/witness/mediawar/mediasyn.htm> “Witness”, on Israeli soldiers targeting journalists -- and primarily Palestinian journalists -- in Hebron. Now this column was almost killed. She had to go to protest to the union before it was finally run, and the management asked her to make changes which would have somehow, in their view, softened it or something.

This kind of chill is through the whole place and it's very dangerous because it breaks the trust with readers and I think eventually will hurt the asset. In a second interview on As It Happens, Southam Editor-in-Chief Murdoch Davis, who writes the editorials from headquarters, argued that the development was reasonable, noting that there were perhaps 50-60 editorials and pieces of local commentary a week in addition to the 2-3 from the head office. However, he did not deny the issues of primary importance to those concerned with coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Interviewer. But if the paper's editorial board took a position on say 'Prime Minister Chretien [garbled]', or Israel, that was absolutely contrary to the editorial written from your office, would they be able to write that?
Davis: No. It is clearly the intent that the newspapers will speak with one voice on certain issues of overarching national or international importance...

1. CENTRALISATION LIMITS DIVERSITY OF OPINION - CanWest's editorial policy demonstrates the dangers posed to press freedoms by the corporate centralization of news media, a process that has been accelerating over the last decade throughout North America. Such threats to press freedoms pose serious dangers for democratic governance itself. Without a free and lively debate of every issue from all angles, citizens cannot participate fully in the political decision-making process conducted in their names domestically or internationally. This is particularly important in the case of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which is already dominated in the media, as it is on the ground, by the Israeli worldview.

As noted in a December 11th statement issued by 55 Montreal Gazette journalists who have pulled their by-lines to protest this new policy:
"Far from offering additional content to Canadians, this [policy] will practically vacate the power of the editorial boards of Southam newspapers and thereby reduce the diversity of opinions and the breadth of debate that to date has been offered readers across Canada.Journalists have a duty to be faithful to the interests of their readers. Our responsibility is to seek the truth and encourage free-wheeling debate on a full range of issues and present stories and ideas in as dynamic a way as possible. Blatant pressures applied to editors by CanWest have damaged this process at major newspapers across Canada. The company is narrowing debate and corrupting both news coverage and commentary to suit corporate interests. A free press is no longer free when competing voices disappear, yet the federal government has recently permitted two large corporations, CanWest and BCE Inc., to secure a stranglehold on Canada's major, privately-operated television and newspaper outlets."

"How CanWest is threatening press freedom," Globe & Mail, 11 December 2001.


December 28, 2001

They want to “win the war of ideas on its merits”? Tell that to Jean Ryan, former managing editor of the Oneida (NY) Daily Dispatch, and city editor Dale Seth (a 15-year veteran of the paper), who were both fired when a delegation of Israel Firsters approached the editor and then the owner demanding the paper retract an allegedly “anti-Semitic” post-9/11 editorial written by Seth. Seth's crime was to recall the terrorist origins of the Jewish state -- as if no one had ever heard of the Irgun and the Stern Gang, both of which waged war on the Arab civilian population û and without which the state of Israel would never have come into existence. He also made the true but politically incorrect observation that the whole region is rife with religious fanaticism, and Israel is no exception to the rule.

“The United States, through its close association with Israel since its inception, has now been dragged kicking and screaming right into the middle of that centuries-old Middle Eastern conflict. From that position, it would behoove that party in the middle to consider the hearts of the warring parties. Neither can be simply beat into submission.”

A local attorney, Randy Schaal, demanded a meeting with Ryan to protest the editorial--Ryan refused to meet with him, pointing out that if the staff met with everyone who disagreed with an editorial, they would never get a paper out. She told him to write a letter to the editor, which he did. But Schaal also contacted local politicians, as well as the Anti-Defamation League, and it wasn't long before pressure was brought to bear on the paper's management, which then ordered its editors to come up with a “clarification.” This was published alongside Schaal's letter, a letter from Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY), and a missive from the mayor of Oneida. Still, Schaal and his fellow Ameners weren't satisfied. They went to the President of the Journal Register Co., and demanded a retraction and an apology--it was unconditional surrender, or nothing.

After a series of meetings with various self-appointed representatives of the Jewish community, the owners of the Daily Dispatch caved and published a groveling mea culpa--”We understand many felt [the editorial] expressed anti-Semitic sentiments,” it said. “We will not further offend our readers by attempting in any way to justify what was written; we can only assure readers that The Dispatch is not anti-Semitic and that we acknowledge the editorial should not have been published.”

So much for the Israeli lobby winning the war of ideas on the “merits” of their case. Clearly, another strategy is at work here--not debating their opponents but silencing them.
Grits deny PM ordered firing
By Maria Mcclintock, Ottawa Bureau
June 18, 2002

Ottawa -- The Liberals denied yesterday that Prime Minister Jean Chretien had a hand in firing longtime Ottawa Citizen publisher Russell Mills. Liberal MP John O'Reilly went to bat for the PM, denying opposition accusations Chretien met with Southam newspaper owner Izzy Asper andordered Mills fired after a Citizen story on the Shawinigate controversy, followed by an editorial calling for the PM to resign. That meeting allegedly happened June 1 in Ottawa -- the same day the Citizen ran the Shawinigate story. "No one here is responsible for the firing of any newspaper editor," O'Reilly said.

Mills said yesterday he had been fired because the Citizen published articles that clashed with the editorial policies of CanWest Global, the Aspers' media conglomerate, which owns the Southam newspaper chain. "I was given the option of retiring ... but it would have required signing a confidentiality agreement and just putting out a short statement that I had retired," said Mills, 57. "In my view, I couldn't do that after so many years in journalism, to put out a statement that was inaccurate."

CanWest Global spokesman Geoffrey Elliott refused comment. Tory Leader Joe Clark suggested the PM had a direct influence over Mills' firing. "These are questions that go to the root of ... democracy," Clark said.


What these news items don’t tell you is that the subject that started this row was Israel. These stories were crafted to mask the evolution of the conflict as coverage of Chretien. The theory is that if Jews reveal the nature of the editorial conflict, that will fuel anti-Semitism. We are told nothing of the conflict over what Canadians read about Israel and Islam.

Canadian newsies have been feuding over the Jewish Asper family and their draconian editorial dictates for some time. There have been walkouts, censorship of letters to the editor, and damaging leaks to American journalists. Journalists are under siege in every newsroom in America to tow the Israeli line. There can be no leaks to the grass eaters that they are being lied to… they are being manipulated to serve Jewish foreign policy.

A few decades ago I realized that one Jew could be a fine and civil member of my community. Two Jews will conspire against any single gentile. And three Jews begin to plot how to expand their influence and subjugate their neighbors. Their control in America is 57 years old and counting.
- Carol (Ottawa Citizen reader)