media giant censures editorials deemed critical of Israel
Journalists up in arms over national
Special to The Daily Star
Canadian newspaper readers are being warned not to expect a balanced
opinion from their dailies after executive orders from the countrys
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 Israels
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
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 Canadas dominant newspaper chain
when it purchased Southam News Inc. from Conrad Blacks 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 Corporations
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 dont 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
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 Southams 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 Southams "position" on Israel? Speaking
to The Daily Star, Davis said: "Well, there isnt just
one position there. Thats 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 wont even acknowledge
its legal right to exist."
When asked whether Southam newspapers would allow the publication
of an editorial which criticized Israels 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, Im 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 wouldnt accept from
his papers, but said: "Of course were not going to run
editorials that we dont agree with. Editorials express our
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 corporations 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
"I dont 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 were seeing
now is the result of this kind of concentration," she said.
"I think most people in journalism find it, frankly, appalling,"
she added. "Its 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
newspapers whose editorials must have unconditional support to Israel:
Halifax Daily News
St. John's Telegram
St. Catherines Standard
Regina Leader Post
Saskatoon Star Phoenix
Other websites regarding this article:
The other media giant in Canada is Conrad Blacks holding
company, Hollinger Inc. Read about its zionist tendencies here.