Postmedia, Paul Godfrey and the Decline of Canadian Journalism
(NOTE: an edited version of this article was first published on Ricochet Media on December 15, 2016)
In early 2016, Toronto Star columnist David Olive authored a scathing critique of Postmedia, Canada’s largest newspaper publisher. Mr. Olive called Postmedia a “cancer on Canadian journalism.” He denounced “savage, non-stop cost-cutting” by Postmedia’s management, and described Postmedia’s CEO, Paul Godfrey, as a “kindred spirit” of Stephen Harper – arguably the most right-wing Prime Minister Canadians have had to endure in the post-WWII period.
As Mr. Olive noted, Godfrey took the unprecedented step in Canada’s 2015 federal election of ordering all 16 major Postmedia newspapers across Canada to endorse Stephen Harper. Mercifully, voters were so appalled by Harper that they turfed him out of office anyway.
Godfrey became CEO of Postmedia in 2009. Since that time, he has laid waste to Postmedia’s business while earning millions in compensation. According to Postmedia’s most recent proxy circular, $100 of Postmedia shares purchased in June 2011 (when Postmedia became a TSX-listed company) had a market value at August 31, 2016 of less than $1. During that same period, Postmedia paid Godfrey over $8 million.
In mid-2016, Godfrey led Postmedia through a debt restructuring. The restructuring appears to have conferred control of Postmedia on New Jersey-based Chatham Asset Management. If you’ve heard of Chatham before, the reason might be that Chris Christie, the right-wing blowhard who governs New Jersey and stumped for Donald Trump, recently sought to award Chatham a $300 million pension management contract. Because Chatham’s principal had contributed lavishly to Christie’s re-election campaign, the contract appeared to violate New Jersey’s anti-corruption laws.
Chatham’s top priority for Postmedia should be to jettison the wildly over-compensated Godfrey, yet there is no indication that Chatham is anxious to liberate Postmedia from Godfrey’s disastrous reign. That’s bad news not only for Postmedia’s employees and shareholders, but also, and more importantly, for the 21 million Canadians who rely on Postmedia for their news. Paul Godfrey is not only the managerial equivalent of the bubonic plague, but he seems determined to have Postmedia act as Canada’s leading propaganda organ of the hard right.
A case in point is Postmedia’s reporting on the Green Party of Canada’s recent adoption of policies calling for sanctions on Israel.
The first of these policies was submitted to Green Party members in the second quarter of 2016. That policy expressed support for the use of boycott, divestment and sanctions, or ‘BDS’, as a means of bringing an end to Israel’s illegal, decades-long occupation of Palestinian territories. In August 2016, after the BDS policy received strong support in a preliminary online poll of the party’s members, it was adopted by a large majority of participants at the party’s biannual convention in Ottawa.
Green Party leader Elizabeth May opposed the BDS policy and publicly contemplated resigning after the party’s convention in Ottawa, but Ms. May resolved to remain as leader when the party’s federal council called a special general meeting (SGM) in order, among other things, to revisit the BDS policy. Before the SGM was held, Ms. May assigned two members of the party’s shadow cabinet to supervise negotiations over a new sanctions policy that did not endorse the BDS movement, but that nonetheless expressed support for the 3 goals of the BDS movement and called for targeted sanctions and divestment as a means of pressuring the government of Israel to respect Palestinian rights. On December 3, 2016, at the SGM in Calgary, Green Party members voted overwhelmingly to replace the BDS policy with that new sanctions policy.
Since June 2016, Postmedia newspapers have published 15 articles relating to the Green Party’s debate on Palestinian rights. The first of these articles appeared in the National Post on June 27, 2016, shortly after the Green Party’s members expressed strong support for the BDS policy in a preliminary online vote. That article was entitled “Greens draw outrage, ‘anti-Israel’ accusations, over proposal to add BDS to party policies,” and it established the highly belligerent tone of all Postmedia reporting on the Green Party’s Palestinian rights debate. The National Post’s June 27 article quoted only persons who vehemently denounced the proposed BDS policy, using such language as “outrageous”, “just bizarre”, “tremendously hypocritical” and “anti-Jewish-Canadian”.
Like the National Post’s June 27 article, virtually all of Postmedia’s 15 articles on the Green Party’s Palestinian rights debate bore titles that suggested extremism, anti-Israel bias or infighting within the Green Party. For example, a Toronto Sun article of August 14, 2016 was entitled “Greens self-destruct with Israel Bashing.” A mere seven days later, the Toronto Sun published another article entitled “Greens attacking Israel? Hardly a surprise.” (The titles and dates of all 15 Postmedia articles are listed at the end of this article.)
Even worse than the strident tone of Postmedia’s articles was the absence from Postmedia’s reporting of pro-BDS and Palestinian perspectives. Postmedia’s 15 articles quoted opponents of BDS on 17 occasions, quoted anti-BDS organizations on 8 occasions, and quoted Israel’s ambassador to Canada on one occasion. By contrast, on only one occasion did any of Postmedia’s 15 articles quote a supporter of BDS (Jill Stein, the leader of the U.S. Green party). In none of their 15 articles on the Green Party’s Palestinian rights debate did Postmedia newspapers quote a single Palestinian or Palestinian solidarity organization.
Worst of all, Postmedia’s reporters completely ignored the issue that lies at the heart of the debate over BDS: Israel’s long-standing and egregious human rights abuses. Not one of Postmedia’s 15 articles disclosed that the governments of Canada, the U.S. and the EU, as well as the U.N. Security Council and the International Court of Justice, all acknowledge that Israel’s settlements in the West Bank violate the Fourth Geneva Convention and are a serious obstacle to peace. Not one Postmedia article disclosed that Israel makes extensive use of collective punishment, and that that, too, is a severe violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Not one Postmedia article disclosed that multiple human rights bodies, including Amnesty International, U.S.-based Human Rights Watch, and the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, have all documented the Israeli forces’ physical and psychological abuse of Palestinian children — in some cases amounting to torture. And not one Postmedia article disclosed that Gaza, home to nearly 2 million trapped Palestinians, is on the verge of becoming uninhabitable due to Israel’s unrelenting and cruel siege.
In September 2011, the Canadian Association of Journalists issued a set of principles for ethical journalism. These principles include the following:
- We avoid allowing our biases to influence our reporting;
- We give people, companies or organization that are criticized in our reporting the opportunity to present their points of view prior to publication; and
- We seek to capture in our stories the diverse values, viewpoints and lives of the people in our communities.
During the past six months, dozens of Palestinian solidarity organizations have issued statements praising the Green Party’s defence of Palestinian rights. Those organizations include Palestine House, Independent Jewish Voices and Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East. Yet in its 15 articles on the Green Party’s Palestinian rights debate, Postmedia quoted no supportive statements from any such organizations – not one. How therefore could Postmedia claim with a straight face that it sought to capture Canadians’ diverse viewpoints on Palestinian rights? At Postmedia, the voices of Palestinians and those who support their rights simply do not matter.
Postmedia’s anti-Palestinian bias is so extreme that, shortly after the Green Party adopted the BDS policy, the Vancouver Sun published a shameless ‘editorial’ in which it defamed Independent Jewish Voices and three members of the Green Party (including yours truly). Within days of the publication of its smear-job, the Vancouver Sun received a letter from IJV’s counsel alleging defamation. The Sun promptly erased the ‘editorial’ from its website and later published a retraction and an apology.
At the end of the day, Paul Godfrey’s worst offence is not that he has enriched himself while helping to wipe out stunning amounts of shareholder value. No, Paul Godfrey’s worst offence is that the media empire he has helped to construct cares less about objectivity, fairness and human rights than the promotion of Godfrey’s right-wing agenda. Thus, the best service that Chatham Asset Management could render to Postmedia’s vast audience is to replace Godfrey with a CEO who will ensure Postmedia’s scrupulous respect for journalistic ethics.
Don’t hold your breath.
Postmedia’s 15 articles on the Green Party of Canada’s Debate Over Palestinian Rights
Greens draw outrage, ‘anti-Israel’ accusations, over proposal to add BDS to party policies (National Post, June 27)
Josh Cooper: The Green party’s anti-Israel agitators (National Post, July 26)
Holocaust deniers threaten Green Party credibility (Toronto Sun, August 2)
Elizabeth May: Greens stand firmly against anti-Semitism (National Post, August 2)
Greens remove reference to Jewish group in new policy to revoke status of charities that violate human rights (National Post, August 6)
Green Party’s boycott Israel policy ‘totally unhelpful’ to peace, ambassador to Canada says (National Post, August 8)
Green Party losing members, riding associations as BDS controversy highlights infighting (National Post, August 10)
Greens self-destruct with Israel Bashing (Toronto Sun, August 14)
Elizabeth May chooses to stay after Green Party’s pro-BDS stance tempted her to step down as leader (National Post, August 22)
Greens attacking Israel? Hardly a surprise (Toronto Sun, August 23)
Elizabeth May’s leadership versus the card shark (Toronto Sun, August 23)
Green Party Lost its Way (Vancouver Sun, August 25)
B.C. Green Party considering name change, as federal leader May fires shadow cabinet trio (Vancouver Sun, September 13)
Calgary Jewish Federation say Green Party resolution places blame on Israel (Calgary Herald, December 4)
Green Party rejects BDS movement, but still supports economic pressure on Israel (National Post, December 5, 2016)