The fall of the Aspers

It’s always been in the back of our minds: something we all knew was a possibility but never really thought would happen. However, in keeping with the editorial policy of Izzy Asper-owned CanWest Global Communications, the company fired Ottawa Citizen Publisher Russell Mills after he ran an editorial calling for Prime Minister Jean Chrétien’s resignation.

For those of you who don’t know–and probably should–the Southam Newspaper chain requires its papers to run centralized editorials twice weekly written by and representing the views of the Asper family. Columnists are forbidden to write articles disagreeing with these editorials for up to one year and are also barred from writing opinions that go against the media giant’s core values.

Media critics tossed around the evils of Canadian newspaper-concentration since the days of Conrad Black’s reign on Canadian print-media. The policies of the Asper regime have only made this debate more fierce.

The federal opposition parties–NDP, PC and Alliance–are trying to make this the next Liberal scandal. This is bigger than GroupAction and bigger than shaky campaign contributions. The Liberal government caught messing with editorial policies of private newspapers is the Holy Grail of political foul-ups. But this isn’t the issue, and painting it like this misses larger implications of CanWest Global’s actions.

Freedom of press is sacred in a democracy, entrenched for the public good. Democracies work better when press is free to publish views without fear of political influence or control. And although nothing of the sort happened here, newspapers should approach this right with a certain amount of responsibility: accurate, objective reporting, refusal to bow down to corporate influence and, most of all, representation of all viewpoints, regardless of the owner’s political affiliations or religious beliefs. If media outlets refuse to do this-what some would call, and rightfully so, responsible journalism-they shouldn’t seek refuge under a law whose spirit and intent they have no intention of respecting.

CanWest Global and the Asper family have shown the Canadian public they most likely have no intention of running their newspapers with any sort of integrity, ethics or good journalism. Their papers include the Calgary Herald and National Post, both of which are highly-circulated in Calgary.

But again, this is a business and, unfortunately, there’s nothing that can be done about it other than protesting with our dollar. And while there may be few better alternatives-the quality of substance of Sun Media papers is another discussion for another time-lost revenue from educated readers might affect this arbitrary and ultimately harmful piece of policy. Once you cancel your subscription–and hopefully you do–think about what perspectives were absent. Then, think how many people use Asper’s papers as their view of the world.

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