Monday, April 14, 2008

CanWest SLAPPing freedom of speech around

The struggling CanWest media empire has always been touchy about criticism - particularly about it's...ahem... fair and balanced approach to Middle Eastern news, now they seem to have decided to launch all out war on anyone who dares to even mock them.

Mordecai Briemberg a long time activist for peace and justice issues picked up a mildly amusing little parody of CanWest's lower mainland paper the Vancouver Sun at an event at the Vancouver public library marking the 40th year of occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. The 4 page spoof was an unambiguous satire with bylines like P. Rupa Ghanda and Cyn Sorsheep. It even outright declares itself as such with the internal headline "Who Produced This Vancouver Sun Parody and Why?" Other such parodies have been created before and will be again. The Wall Street Journal has recently been embarrassed by a similar spoof (Warning this link goes to an image that you will never be able to un-see.) marking Rupert Murdoch's takeover.

Briemberg got a chuckle out of the joke paper, picked up a couple copies and left them at a bus stop on the way home.

Six months later he was served with a writ by CanWest
suing him for producing the parody and violating CanWest's trademark and demanding an injunction restraining Briemberg and various John Doe defendants from ever again "publishing injurious falsehoods by way of newspapers or other publications, on the internet or otherwise". Briemberg will have to spend thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours at least defending himself in the case.

The other defendants in the lawsuit are a printing company and its president, plus three "John Does" and three "Jane Does" who, CanWest claims, were in a conspiracy.

"Each of the defendants is involved, directly or indirectly, in anti-Israeli and pro-Palestinian media activities. Further, the defendants, or some of them, harbour antagonist views toward the plaintiff, its principal shareholders and the reporting and editorial opinions expressed in the plaintiff's publications."

In other words CanWest seems as upset by the beliefs behind the parody as they are about the parody itself. This seems to be an almost perfect example of a SLAPP suit.

Finding examples of CanWest distortion on the subject of Israel isn't particularly difficult. At one point they had to be publicly scolded by Reuters to get them to stop re-writing the wire service's copy to make the Palestinians look worse and Israelis' look utterly blameless. They were caught doing it to AP and CP copy too. Which may explain why CanWest eventually created their own wire service, presumably so that they could insert any message they wished into the news without being called on it.

As Dr Dawg points out, the Briemberg case is an example of censorship by legal assault that the right wing screechers so incensed with human rights tribunals right now seem to show very little interest in.

Briemberg isn't the only target of CanWest's hair trigger legal department of late. When Rafe Mair at the Tyee accused CanWest's corporate office of being behind the firing of two of the Province's cartoonists CanWest responded with a lawsuit.

You read that right by the way, both of the two largest dailies on the lower mainland the Sun and the Province are owned by CanWest, along with Global TV providing the lion's share of regional TV news as well. As FAIR pointed out recently all the major media owners in Canada could fit comfortably in one small office. Media concentration has led to the centralization of news gathering and severe cutbacks to actual newsroom staff.

The Tyee acknowledged errors in the story, amended it, then retracted it altogether and ultimately apologized for it in print three times. CanWest responded by filing suit 'claiming that Mair’s column injured the Province newspaper’s character, credit and reputation. The writ also claimed Mair and The Tyee showed malice towards CanWest in publishing untrue facts.'

The Tyee points out that the retraction and apology have received more than six times the reader views the original article ever did.

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