CanWest slammed for its lawsuit

An influential civil liberties group has slammed CanWest Global, the giant media company fond of using the law to squelch criticism of itself, for  an attempt to “to silence satirical criticism and constrain fair comment,” “corporate bullying” and  a lack of “good humour and sober second thought.”

CanWest is suing The Tyee, an independent online magazine founded by a one-time editor at CanWest’s Vancouver Sun, for an error by a Tyee columnist and after an apology failed to appease CanWest’s ire. CanWest (controlled by the Asper family, famous for their support of, and lack of criticism, Israel) is  also suing a political scientist and pro-Palestinian activist over a satirical parody of the Vancouver Sun, published anonymously last summer.

Now the B.C. Civil Liberties Association has issued an open letter calling on CanWest to drop the suit against the satirists. From the April 23 press release:

“In an open letter, the B.C. Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) is calling on CanWest to drop its lawsuit against Mordecai Briemberg and a local publisher, Horizons Publications over an alleged trademark infringement based on a mock edition of the Vancouver Sun.

The publication, a satirical paper printed and distributed in the Lower Mainland last June, parodied the layout and look of the Vancouver Sun while mocking the paper’s perceived bias in favour of the state of Israel and against Palestinians.

The BCCLA views the CanWest lawsuit to be an ill-advised attempt by CanWest to use the courts to silence satirical criticism and constrain fair comment.

BCCLA spokesperson Tom Sandborn: “We call upon CanWest to exercise a bit of good humour and sober second thought, which will, we are confident, persuade the firm that it does not want to proceed in an action that will, if successful, look like corporate bullying. Whether successful or not, the case works against the principles of press freedom that support CanWest’s media operations across Canada. Too often, the mere threat of court action is enough to stifle public debate or satirical expression.”

The BCCLA had asked the Vancouver Sun to publish the open letter but the newspaper declined.”

The open letter to CanWest Mediaworks Publications is here.

A previous Townhall post is here.

Since it took over the former Southam/Hollinger chain of newspapers, operating a near-monopoly in several towns including B.C.’s southwest coast, CanWest has vehemently defended its corporate image. But suing activists and a small online publication is, in my opinion, over the top. This is nothing about free press, freedom of expression and the quant former journalistic notion of public service and public trust — and everything about power.

And maybe power pays off — it’s interesting that on the same day the civil liberties group slammed CanWest, it announced that it is “partnering with the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games (VANOC) to help inform and engage communities across the country as the Official Regional Newspaper Publisher for the 2010 Winter Games.”