Criticize CanWest, get sued

Just why has CanWest Global — the giant media company in an industry that is rightfully leery of libel chill and which relies on the right to freedom of expression for its existence — begun using law suits to squelch criticism of itself?

CanWest is suing The Tyee, an independent online magazine founded by David Beers, a former CanWest editor at the Vancouver Sun. Reports here at; here at the Vancouver Sun; and here at the Globe and Mail. (I’d post other news stories, but alas there’s a dearth of many other news sources in this media-monopolized democratic country.)

As a business column in the Globe and Mail reports, CanWest is also suing over a satirical parody of the Vancouver Sun published anonymously by Palestinian activists last summer. The mock newspaper was apparently an attempted critique of the Asper family, which controls CanWest, and their support via their media holdings for almost everything Israeli. Retired SFU political scientist  Mordecai Briemberg, a pro-Palestinian political activist, is one of the people being sued by CanWest.

Briemberg, who was previously spied upon by the CIA, should be used to being a target. Perhaps that’s why CanWest’s libel chill hasn’t worked on him and he’s instead speaking out. He says he “had nothing to do with the conception, creation, production or financing of this satire, and I do not know who did,” and he says his only role in the event was to hand out several copies he found on a public table. Here’s an excerpt of his criticism of  Canwest on the web site of the Near East Cultural and Educational Foundation of Canada:

“Canwest has fought in court for freedom of the press ostensibly under the rubric of freedom of speech, implying a freedom of thought and ideas. Yet litigation as described below threatens to stifle thought and truthful insights, and thus belies the motive of such an organization.

“It is truly remarkable that a corporate media empire attempting to maintain even a veneer of respectability would undertake such an effort. Ultimately, this action can be inferred as a cogent commentary on the bias in Middle East reporting as published by Canwest, and the fear of competing perspectives invariably communicated outside of the control of their editorial boardroom.”

Friends of Canadian Broadcasting has also weighed in on the issue. A blog called has also been launched to provide info and a forum for discussion.