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Montreal Gazette reporters protest David Asper's one-size-fits-all editorial policy

From (Unfortunately when you click the URL you won't find the material -- just a statement saying material was removed Dec. 14, 2001)

Gazette Newsroom

Welcome to a site put together by some Montreal Gazette reporters and editors on their own time. It is part of a protest against the decision by Southam News to force 12 of its major metropolitan newspapers to run "national editorials" written at the corporate headquarters of parent company CanWest Global Communications Corp.

Media Giant Silences Local Voices: Canadian Journalism Under Attack

An open letter by journalists at The Gazette

Gazette logo

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 all of its 12** 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 (Dec. 13).

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 all 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.

** Halifax Daily News, St. John's Telegram, Montreal Gazette, Ottawa Citizen, Windsor Star, St. Catharines Standard, Regina Leader Post, Saskatoon Star Phoenix, Calgary Herald, Edmonton Journal, Vancouver Sun, Victoria Times-Colonist

Seventy Gazette journalists had signed the letter as of 4 p.m., Wednesday, Dec. 12. An updated list will be published here soon

1. Bernard Perusse 2. Jay Bryan 3. Lynn Moore 4. Mike Boone 5. Sheila McGovern 6. Irwin Block 7. Alexander Norris 8. Kevin Dougherty 9. Monique Beaudin 10. Charlie Shannon 11. Andy Riga 12. George Kalogerakis 13. Peggy Curran 14. Julian Armstrong 15. Basem Boshra 16. Nick Van Praet 17. Eva Friede 18. Sheila Scott 19. Sue Montgomery 20. Mark Abley 21. Leigh Edwards 22. Paul Delean 23. Michelle Sarrazin 24. Richard Arless 25. Lisa Fitterman 26. Linda Gyulai 27. William Marsden 28. Jan Ravensbergen 29. Matt Radz 30. Jeff Heinrich 31. Jane Davenport 32. Mike King 33. Kazi Stastna 34. Marilyn Mill 35. Marie Cuffaro 36. Philip Authier 37. Paul Cherry 38. John Kenney 39. Francois Shalom 40. Ani Cioffi 41. Mary Lamey 42. Michelle Lalonde 43. Don Macdonald 44. Levon Sevunts 45. Terry Mosher 46. Alan Hustak 47. T'cha Dunlevy 48. Jeanine Lee 49. Susan Schwartz 50. John Griffin 51. Lynn Farrell 52. Aaron Derfel 53. Doug Sweet 54. Harvey Shepherd 55. Hubert Bauch 56. Janet Bagnall 57. Eric Siblin 58. Susan Semenak 59. Anne Sutherland 60. Alycia Ambroziak 61. Allison Lampert 62. Elizabeth Thompson 63. Hazel Porter 64. Allison Hanes 65. Bill Brownstein 66. Mark Lepage 67. Sean Gordon 68. Andrea Shepherd 69. John MacFarlane 70. John Mahoney

Gazette Newsroom Letters of Support

Please count me among the supporters of your campaign against Southam's centralized editorials. I've been away on assignment and only became aware of your efforts in the last two days -- the byline strike, the petition, the open letters to selected competitors, the website. This willingness to differ with the bosses on a point of principle made me proud, as I so often am, to have started at The Gazette -- and surprised that yours is the only newsroom to have spoken out so publicly so far. I can only hope you will soon have imitators.

It is depressing to see Southam employees having to remind yet another generation of Southam proprietors of the virtues of letting the locals think for themselves. In our line of work, it seems, history repeats itself first as tragedy (Bill Ardell crusading for chain-wide food pages); then as farce (Lord Black of Crossharbour, who despite his fondness for ermine is indeed starting to look like the best friend we've had for a while); then as something extraordinarily disturbing: an attempt to dictate editorial stances, not only for the duration of the latest fax from Winnipeg, but for all future editorials on the same subject, across the chain. I have never in my life heard a reader complain that there is too much variety in Southam papers, yet we are constantly blessed with proprietors working overtime to keep the amount of variety down to manageable levels.

In a letter to the Winnipeg Free Press, one of our proprietors claims he is only asking for the same right of free expression that any other Canadian citizen enjoys, and exercising it the way any proprietor would. Wrong, twice. Conrad Black restricted his exercise of the proprietor's prerogative to signed letters on rare occasions (well, and the odd judicious hiring choice, let's be honest). So you could see him coming. The only way to do the same with the new policy would be to hold simultaneous subscriptions to two or more major-market Southam papers, and compare the editorial pages. The new way is a wee bit sneakier than the old.

As for rights to free expression, that one's a bit of a red herring, isn't it? There is, or should be, at least an occasional difference between rights and wisdom. Of course the owner can do what he likes; one simply likes to hope the owner will be judicious in deciding what he likes to do.

Janice Kennedy, Ottawa Citizen, Dec. 11, 2001

As an Ottawa Citizen staffer, all I can say is: way to go.Your protest is appreciated by a lot of us here. Maybe it will even inspire us. It's a good fight. Keep fighting it.

Stuart Laidlaw, Toronto Star Editorial Board, Dec. 12, 2001.

Thanks from a colleague for taking a stand against the national editorials being pushed on Southam papers by head office. As a member of The Star's editorial board, I was especially disturbed by the move. I hope, however, that more than just journalists will be disturbed.

Mark McGuire, TV/radio writer, Albany Times Union, Dec. 12, 2001 The corporatization of the media knows no national boundary. It's unfortunate the fight you're in is emblematic of the growing homogenization of news worldwide. Please keep up the good fight.

John Turner, Producer, CBC News/Current Affairs, Toronto, Dec. 13, 2001 I am still shocked that this kind of Kremlin-styled directive is coming down from Southam and CanWest. I fully support one and all and have already sent out emails and letters to others. All the best.