press launch own Intifada
3 May 2002,
Special to The Daily Star
Journalists enraged at censorship
by pro-Israel owners
Toronto: As reports of censorship and pro-Israeli media bias in
Canada rage, journalists are fighting back, waging what they call
their own intifada.
Weve seen the ugly face of censorship at the Gazette
(it) looks a lot like Izzy Aspers, wrote
journalists at the Montreal Gazette, the only English-language newspaper
in Canadas second largest city, in an article protesting interference
in press freedom.
The article, which used the byline Gazette Intifada,
was published in Media Magazine last month. Its authors are among
the dozens of prominent Canadian journalists, authors, politicians,
activists and academics who want the government to begin an inquiry
into the effects of concentrated media ownership in Canada.
According to the Gazette Intifada, the Aspers, owners of CanWest
Global Communications, have clamped down on news, criticism,
or commentary that is anything but 100 percent pro-Israeli.
Canadas largest media corporation, CanWest Global Communications,
is headed by pro-Israeli ideologue Israel Izzy Asper.
After purchasing the Southam newspaper chain in 2000, CanWests
Canadian portfolio has come to include 126 community newspapers,
one of three national television networks and a major internet portal
as well as 14 major metropolitan daily newspapers including the
nationally distributed National Post. In most Canadian large cities,
CanWest runs the only daily newspaper.
Asper has made no attempt to keep his support for Israel a secret.
In a speech last year, he remarked that Israel is a lonely
outpost of Western civilization and its values in a sea of terrorism,
corruption, dictatorship and human enslavement. He has also
criticized the Canadian government for its shameful
policy on Israel, as represented by its pro-Palestinian votes at
the United Nations.
Journalists fear Aspers private opinions may be impacting
what the public reads. CanWest has muzzled reporters and editors
from coast-to-coast and meddled with the editorial stance of its
newspapers, particularly in their coverage of the Middle East. Charges
of censorship have not been limited to editorials and commentaries
but also include news stories. According to local journalists, any
negative coverage of Israel has been forbidden.
Concerns about CanWests ownership of 60 percent of Canadian
media proved legitimate when Asper dictated in December that corporate
editorials, written at the companys headquarters in Winnipeg,
must run weekly in the 14 metropolitan dailies across Canada. The
national editorials would run in the space where papers
had run local editorials. The policy has since led to employee dissent
and company punitive discipline at three newspapers, according to
a report by the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression.
I have not had columns (before CanWest took over) where youve
been talking about the Israeli issue and thats verboten if
you dont take the right side, said Stephen Kimber, a
former CanWest employee, on national television. Kimber quit his
job with the Halifax Daily News when the newspaper refused to run
a commentary he had written criticizing their repeated censorship
of his columns.
A column at another newspaper was spiked because the columnist
compared the plight of Palestinians to that of aborigines in Canada.
By attempting to impose censorship and clamp down on freedom of
the press, CanWest has created a strong backlash among journalists.
Gazette reporters have signed a petition protesting the abuses,
and vent their frustration in a website they set up on their own
According to Alexander Norris, Gazette reporters have been
threatened with dismissal for anything that smacks of what CanWest
takes to be a violation of an obligation of primary fidelity to
our employer. Norris is one of 77 Gazette reporters who have
signed an online petition in protest.
Journalists are not alone in their dissent. Pro-Palestinian students
also say the media covers their events with bias.
When we organize activities, theyre either not covered
at all or covered from a negative perspective, said Sami Nazzal,
head of the Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR) at Concordia
University. Regardless of the activity, the media wont
cover it unless there is something negative, unless theres
something to make a pro-Palestinian activist look bad.
Nazzal gave the example of a recent SPHR-organized rally, during
which one demonstrator started to burn an Israeli flag. It
took a few seconds before we stopped him, said Nazzal. But
the camera caught it, and thats all they showed on TV. They
didnt cover the thousands of people demonstrating. They didnt
say why we were there or what our message was. All they said was
that we burned an Israeli flag.
According to local journalists, letters to the editor continue
to pour in. And journalists have written collectively that despite
what they perceive as censorship, they will continue to report the
facts as they see them. None of this has reduced our determination
one iota, the Gazette reporters wrote.
A boycott Southam newspapers ( CanWest Global Communications) website
has been launched:
"Welcome to the official site of the national effort to
boycott Southam newspapers. This protest is a direct attempt to
get the Asper editorials stopped... If you are already as disgusted
by these editorials as I am, then waste no more time. Cancel your
subscription and add your name to the protest list ... subscription
cancellations are the only thing they are going to listen to.
Please join us."
Visit the site and boycott the papers: