Citizen publisher fired after critical coverage of PM

The publisher of the Ottawa Citizen says he was fired by the Asper family because he didn't clear editorial content with them.

The publisher of the Ottawa Citizen says he was fired after the newspaper ran articles criticizing Prime Minister Jean Chrtien.

Russell Mills, who had been publisher since 1986, got the news last night after meeting with David Asper, an executive with CanWest Global. CanWest owns the Citizen and other newspapers in the Southam group.

Mills said the trouble began after the paper's recent publication of a negative feature on the prime minister followed by editorials calling for his resignation.

"They wanted to see it in advance. They felt that I should have submitted it to them for approval," Mills said.

"Other Southam newspapers have called for the resignation of the prime minister since the Aspers have owned the newspaper without any pre-clearance or any consequences or any communication that I know of."

The Aspers are long-term supporters of the Liberals and Chrtien.

The action has raised journalists' fears about freedom of the press. CanWest has come under fire over its policy of requiring member newspapers to run an editorial from head office twice a week. The papers are also not permitted to disagree with what are described as "core positions,'' Mills says.

A spokesperson for CanWest would only confirm that Mills is out, and that Gordon Fisher had been named interim publisher.

Mills joined the newspaper as a copy editor in 1971 and became editor six years later. On Saturday, he received an honorary degree from Carleton University for his service to journalism.