The International Federation of Journalists today accused the Canadian media company CanWest over corporate censorship and the victimisation of journalists who are trying to defend professional standards.
"The CanWest corporation is showing the ugly and intolerant face of modern media," said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. "While openly interfering in editorial content it cravenly punishes those journalists who have the courage to protest."
CanWest has suspended journalists for talking to outside media and disciplined others for protesting over internal censorship. Journalists throughout the group - which includes newspapers and television outlets across Canada - have also been angered by the imposition of corporate editorials that destroy local editorial independence.
The IFJ, which is the world's largest journalists' group, says that media concentration and the creation of powerful media corporations is potentially dangerous to independent journalism. "The CanWest vision of modern media is one in which the twisted values of the media market always come first and where there is contempt for traditional journalism," said Aidan White.
CanWest has slapped gag orders on newspaper reporters in the group and this has been extended to CanWest Global TV operations across Canada. TV newsrooms have been told that reporters are banned from taking part in editorial protests that have occurred at two of the company's newspaper outlets - the Montreal Gazette and The Leader Post in Regina.
Four LeaderPost reporters were suspended for five days last week, for talking to outside media and another six were given letters of reprimand after they withdrew their by-lines in protest over an incident of censorship at the newspaper. Management at the LeaderPost censored a story to tone down criticism of CanWest for pulling articles by some of its columnists who expressed views the company did not like. The workforce is represented by The Newspaper Guild of Canada, an affiliate of the IFJ.
"If this had happened in Eastern Europe 15 years ago there would have been widespread protests from media owners and journalists' groups," says the IFJ. "The issues today are no different - the fight for editorial freedom and protection from censorship. What has changed is that the threat comes from within the media community itself."
CanWest has refused demands by The Newspaper Guild to withdraw the disciplinary action against the ten staff in Regina. The issue is going to arbitration. "The Company has no shame," said Aidan White, "It should withdraw all disciplinary actions, end all form of intimidation and keep its hands off journalists' work."