Friends of Canadian Broadcasting

THE GLOBE & MAIL

December 11, 2001

See also: 'Gazette Newsroom' web site

How CanWest is threatening press freedom

For two days last week, many reporters at the Gazette in Montreal removed their names from the articles they wrote. It was a protest against the decision by Southam News to force 12 of its major metropolitan newspapers to run "national editorials" written at the Winnipeg corporate headquarters of parent company CanWest Global Communications Corp. The first was published last week. Another is to run Thursday.

We believe this is an attempt to centralize opinion to serve the corporate interests of CanWest. Far from offering additional content to Canadians, this 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.

CanWest's intention is initially to publish one national editorial a week in major Southam newspapers. This will eventually become three a week.

More important, each editorial will set the policy for that topic in such a way as to constrain the editorial boards of each newspaper to follow this policy. Essentially, CanWest will be imposing editorial policy on its papers on all issues of national significance. Without question, this decision will undermine the independence and diversity of each newspaper's editorial board and thereby give Canadians a greatly reduced variety of opinion, debate and editorial discussion.

Editorial boards at each newspaper exist to debate public policy issues, reach a consensus and then present the reasoning to the public. They are designed to be largely free of corporate interests. This crucial process of journalistic debate is undermined by editorials dictated by corporate headquarters.

We believe this centralizing process will weaken the credibility of every Southam paper. Last week's first editorial, for example, calls on the federal government to reduce and eventually to abolish capital gains taxes for private foundations. Who would blame a reader for thinking the editorial simply serves the interests of the foundation run by the Asper family, owners of CanWest and Southam? Credibility is the most precious asset a newspaper possesses. When the power of the press is abused, that credibility dies.

Journalists have a duty to be faithful to the interests of their readers. Our responsibility is to seek the truth and encourage freewheeling 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.

It is time for a thorough inquiry into this dangerous situation.

Signed by 55 journalists from the Montreal Gazette:

Bernard Perusse, Jay Bryan, Lynn Moore, Mike Boone, Sheila McGovern, Irwin Block, Alexander Norris, Kevin Dougherty, Monique Beaudin, Charlie Shannon, Andy Riga, George Kalogerakis, Peggy Curran, Julian Armstrong, Basem Boshra, Nick Van Praet, Eva Friede, Sheila Scott, Sue Montgomery, Mark Abley, Leigh Edwards, Paul Delean, Michelle Sarrazin, Richard Arless, Lisa Fitterman, Linda Gyulai, William Marsden, Jan Ravensbergen, Matt Radz, Jeff Heinrich, Jane Davenport, Mike King, Kazi Stastna, Marilyn Mill, Marie Cuffaro, Philip Authier, Paul Cherry, John Kenney, Francois Shalom, Ani Cioffi, Mary Lamey, Michelle Lalonde, Charles Shannon, Levon Sevunts, Terry Mosher, Alan Hustak, T'cha Dunlevy, Jeanine Lee, Susan Schwartz, John Griffin, Lynn Farrell, Aaron Derfel, Doug Sweet, Harvey Shepherd, Janet Bagnall

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