CanWest Global Communications

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CanWest Global Communications Corp. is Canada's largest international media company. The company's head office is situated in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and its assets include: Global Television, a coast-to-coast Canadian broadcasting network which reaches over 94% of English-speaking Canada (ie. outside of Quebec), and CH, a second system of stations located in Montreal, Hamilton and Victoria; CanWest Entertainment, a film and tv production and distribution operation; a growing interactive media business; eight specialty channels that offer variety programming, including Prime; and a significant international television and radio broadcasting presence in New Zealand, Australia, the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. CanWest is Canada's largest newspaper publisher with ownership of the National Post, ten major metro dailies and 27 smaller daily, weekly and community papers in smaller communities throughout British Columbia.

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Concentration of power

CanWest is often cited as an example of how the ownership of Canadian media has become concentrated in the hands of a few individuals and large corporations. CanWest founder Izzy Asper was known as a strong supporter of both Canada's Liberal Party and Israel's right-wing Likud party. Observers have suggested that Asper's political views have had a significant impact on news coverage at CanWest media outlets. For example, in 2002, Ottawa Citizen publisher Russell Mills was fired by CanWest after the paper published a series of articles exposing a financial scandal involving then prime minister Jean Chrétien.

CanWest power in the marketplace is reflected in a new contract that freelance contributors must sign. Until recently, standard industry practise was that freelancers sold the rights for one time use and only in Canada. CanWest now requires that freelancers sign over all rights "throughout the universe in perpetuity".

Editorial controversies

Since the 2000 acquisition of the major former Canadian newspaper holdings of Conrad Black's Hollinger International, including Southam News, significant concerns have been raised by journalists, labour, legislators and commentators about CanWest's enforcement of its corporate editorial positions. A 2001 decision to run regular uniform national editorials in all metropolitan dailies (except the National Post), whereby local editorial boards could not take local positions on subjects of national editorials, ignited major national controversy and was subsequently withdrawn.

Conflict over CanWest editorial control and policy has focused in particular on three issues:

  • The Liberal Party of Canada. Since Israel Asper's leadership of the Manitoba Liberal Party, the Asper family has been identified with Liberal politics and politicians. In July 2001, Southam national affairs columnist Lawrence Martin, was fired after a column of his critical Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chrétien was not published. Russell Mills, longtime publisher of the Ottawa Citizen, was fired in June 2002 after the newspaper called on Chrétien to resign.
  • The government of Israel and conflict in the Middle East. Veteran Montreal Gazette reporter Bill Marsden has said that the Aspers "do not want any criticism of Israel. We do not run in our newspaper op-ed pieces that express criticism of Israel and what it is doing." [1] (http://www.queensjournal.ca/articlephp/point-vol129/issue37/editorials/lead2) In 2004, the Reuters news agency protested after CanWest altered newswire stories about the Iraq war and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, such that Reuters felt it had inserted CanWest's own bias under Reuters bylines. The changes were apparently made in accordance with a CanWest policy to label certain groups as terrorists. [2] (http://ottawa.cbc.ca/regional/servlet/View?filename=ot_reuters20040917)
  • CanWest editorial control and management itself. In December 2001, 77 staff at the Montreal Gazette signed a letter and launched a web page [3] (http://www.fpjq.org/canwest/index.html) opposing the national editorial policy, and the reporters among them participated in a byline strike, refusing to sign their names to their stories in the newspaper in protest. Management responded with a gag order. The next year, several journalists left the Halifax Daily News over similar conflicts, and ten journalists at the Regina Leader-Post were reprimanded or suspended after a byline stike to protest censorship of coverage of a speech in Regina by Toronto Star columnist and CanWest critic Haroon Siddiqui.

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