|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. "We've seen the ugly face of censorship at the Gazette and ... (it) looks a lot like Izzy Asper's," wrote journalists at the Montreal Gazette, the only English-language newspaper in Canada's 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."
Canada's largest media corporation, CanWest Global Communications, is headed by pro-Israeli ideologue Israel "Izzy" Asper. After purchasing the Southam newspaper chain in 2000, CanWest's 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 Asper's 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 CanWest's ownership of 60 percent of Canadian media proved legitimate when Asper dictated in December that corporate editorials, written at the company's 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 you've been talking about the Israeli issue and that's verboten if you don't 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 time.
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, they're 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 won't cover it unless there is something negative, unless there's 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 that's all they showed on TV. They didn't cover the thousands of people demonstrating. They didn't 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.
You can muffle the drum, and you can loosen the strings of the lyre, but who shall command the skylark not to sing? ~Khalil Gibran
Canadian Press Launch Own Intifada
To Defy Censorship
Special to The Daily Star
Posted on the Independent Newswire on 6 May 2002
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