In June 2007, a parody of the Vancouver Sun was published and distributed, satirizing the paper's pro-Israel bias in reporting on the Middle East. Six months later, Palestine solidarity activist Mordecai Briemberg was hit with a "SLAPP" suit by Canwest, alleging his involvement in the parody. Recently, Canwest dropped its suit, although they are still targeting two other activists with legal action. Mordecai Briemberg compares the Sun parody with a recent New York Times spoof and shares his views on why the suit against him was dropped.
What exquisite timing! A spoof of the New York Times on the theme of "all the news we hope to print" (dated July 4, 2009) appeared this November and was distributed across the United States.
This utopian vision supplanted the Times trademark slogan "all the news that's fit to print" just when the prize-winning, clever marketing of a presidential candidate had lifted a balloon of popular hope to its apex, above the wreckage of years of Bush-gang vigilante terror.
"Iraq War Ends" was the front-page headline. And the New York Times calmly and without threat reported the spoof, as did many media in Canada, including CBC and Canwest's flagship National Post.
For 11 months the latter two, along with the Toronto Star and other Canadian commercial mega-media chains, have determinedly refused to report or comment on another major spoof in our own backyard, a spoof of Canwest's Vancouver Sun.
Both spoofs used the exact trademark logo of the commercial edition, and the same typeface and "get-up," as lawyers refer to it, to attract the initial attention of readers.
A mere 12,000 copies were printed of the Vancouver Sun parody, compared with 1.2 million of the New York Times. We know the U.S. is home of super-sized everything. But the contrast between Canadian media reporting the New York Times spoof while simultaneously suppressing news of the Vancouver Sun spoof has its explanation elsewhere than the comparative scale of publication. The explanation resides in content.
Peter Newman, author of the new biography of Israel Asper, founder of the family controlled Canwest empire, said "Izzy was obsessed with two things, Israel and Winnipeg." Appropriate to that obsession, the centerpiece of the Canwest parody was a satire of its unending support of Israeli state practices.
In contrast, the wonderfully imaginative creators of the Times spoof failed to create a vision of justice and peace for this globally consequential conflict. "Jubilation as Palestinians and Israelis dance in the streets: new agreement affirms equal rights," was a story of hope missing from their spoof. But the "Yes Men" who created the New York Times parody have invited the creators of the Canwest spoof to write a report along these lines for their website.
Andy Bichlbaum, one of the Yes Men duo, appearing on Jian Ghomeshi's CBC radio program "Q", went further. In his interview Andy injected the issue of the Canwest spoof. Host Ghomeshi responded as if his guest had farted at a dinner party: didn't hear it, didn't smell it, for god's sake pretend it didn't happen. Quickly go on to something else! The word "Canwest" never passed Ghomeshi's lips.
That has been true of all CBC programs - absolute silence, sunk as they are in a stupor of denial. Commercial media are as bad as the public broadcaster. "We don't criticize other media," "It's before the court," "We might be sued" are among the lame excuses.
Most recently, a letter protesting a New Brunswick human rights award to the Aspers was printed by an Irving-owned Maritime daily. There was only one edit of the submission: the short reference to the Canwest suit was chopped.
The Canadian media wall of public silence on this issue is simply shameful, exceeding as it does even the most cynical expectations. Nonetheless, you can be sure that even in these same circles the story they deny exists circulates as gossip, like all "forbidden fruit." Might Canwest find such gossip irritating?
Might it be even more upset by alternate media, particularly Internet based, reporting, interviewing, and commenting on their efforts to silence discussion, particularly on the issue of Palestinian rights?
What about well-organized leafleting at events where Canwest is intent in promoting itself as a good-hearted philanthropist? Be assured, the paradox of promoting child literacy while simultaneously trying to suppress what adults can read and say escapes very few.
But above all it undoubtedly is the breadth of open discussion of Canwest's efforts to suppress free speech that most troubles them. The accurate image of media suppressing the very practice it is supposed to (and pretends to) defend is well beyond what Canwest expected when they first launched their suit.
Civil liberties organizations, librarian organizations, writers organizations, trade union organizations, including the one that represents Canwest journalists in British Columbia -- all have issued public statements. Well-known, widely respected, indeed renowned individuals, locally, nationally and internationally have joined the Seriously Free Speech Committee (SFSC) as honourary members.
In sum, it is the responses to the initiatives of the SFSC that this month brought Canwest to drop its suit against me for being part of a ‘conspiracy' to create and publish the parody. From the beginning they had no evidence - for no evidence existed - for I wasn't involved.
Regardless of lack of evidence they launched the suit naming a printer, me and six John and Jane Does. In my view they chose and charged me solely because of my long-time, entirely public activity in support of Palestinian rights.
Even four months ago when the two people who did create and publish the parody came forward publicly to say so, and to confirm that I had not been aware of or involved in this project, Canwest still persisted against me.
I suspect by now they are beginning to realize this attempt to silence and intimidate the public expression of views antithetical to their's on Israel and Palestine is backfiring. They are beginning to admit to themselves support for the Seriously Free Speech Committee continues to grow. How else explain Canwest's retreat?
The SFSC recognizes this as a significant victory. We ate cake, drank wine, but most important of all - committed ourselves to continuing our campaign until the two remaining defendants, Gordon Murray and Carel Moisiewitsch, similarly are dropped from the Canwest suit. That is the second victory we now work for.
Beyond our particular case there are other individuals, active on varied issues, who in the past and today face SLAPP suits such as Canwest has launched. Wealthy corporations use SLAPPs to try and silence their political critics and exhaust their resources. The enactment of anti-SLAPP legislation in provinces across Canada, as they exist in many states of the U.S., is important for a vital political democracy. It is another worthwhile objective.
Amidst all this work it is vital that those involved in Palestine solidarity work continue our efforts, undiverted. To do otherwise is to concede our democratic rights, and to abandon our responsibility to work for what is just, honourable, and necessary for the survival of fellow human beings.
For more information and to assist the campaign, check out the SFSC website.