Last month, the threat to freedom of the press in Canada reached its highest level to date with CanWest’s firing of Ottawa Citizen publisher, Russell Mills. But firing Mr. Mills was only one of CanWest’s “our-views-are-the-only-right-views” series:
1. In Halifax, Bill Turpin, editor of The Daily News, quit, after being told by CanWest not to run a column that criticized corporate policy.
2. In Montreal, Gazette publisher Michael Goldbloom was fired after deviating from CanWest Global’s pro-Israel stance.
3. In Windsor, columnist Peter Worthington was fired after criticizing CanWest’s dictum that all papers in the chain must run national editorials written at head office.
4. In Saskatoon, writer Doug Cuthand was censored for being too sympathetic to the Palestinians.
5. In Regina, editors rewrote a story about a lecture, delivered by The Toronto Star’s Haroon Siddiqui, that criticized CanWest Global.
6. Earlier, veteran Halifax journalist and journalism professor Stephen Kimber resigned, citing editorial interference from the newspaper’s owner.
7. And finally, in Ottawa, Russell Mills was fired for failing to check with head office before publishing an editorial calling on Prime Minister Jean Chrétien to resign.
Mr. Mills says the trouble began with a feature that ran in his paper earlier this month that was highly critical of Chretien, as well as a followup editorial calling for the PM’s resignation. “They wanted to see it in advance and they felt I should have submitted it to them for approval,” says Mills. “I had no way of knowing that was their expectation. They’ve given many guarantees about the editorial independence of the newspapers to the CRTC [and] to the Heritage committee of the House of Commons. Other Southam newspapers have called for the resignation of the prime minister since the Aspers have owned the papers… without any consequences, or even any communication that I know of.”
Prof. Mohamed Elmasry is a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Waterloo and national president of the Canadian Islamic Congress.