Reporters protest CanWest's editorial plan

CanWest's decision to insist its papers run head office editorials has sparked a newsroom protest in Montreal

Some reporters at the Montreal Gazette are so worried about an editorial policy from their new corporate head office that they're withdrawing their bylines in protest.

CanWest Global Communications Corp. has ordered all 17 papers in its Southam, Inc. stable including the Gazette to run one national editorial a week, written at Canwest's head office in Winnipeg. That number is scheduled to eventually increase to three per week.

According to the Montreal Newspaper Guild, that decision will seriously hamper the newspaper's freedom of speech, and limit the number of voices it can offer readers.

Last year, the Southam chain was bought from Conrad Black by the Asper family's CanWest Global. Its first national editorial last week called on Finance Minister Paul Martin to beef up tax breaks for private charities, without mentioning that the Aspers run a private charity.

Gazette reporter Alexander Norris, one of the reporters spearheading the protest, says the national editorial policy puts too much media power in too few hands.

"We want to draw Canadians' attention to the fact that a very powerful family that controls a big chunk of the news media is abusing its power," he said.

But Southam's editor-in-chief, Murdoch Davis, says critics are blowing the policy out of proportion. He says most newspapers carry three editorials a day, and surrendering one of those spots a week should not be a burden.

The Gazette's former publisher resigned over differences he had with CanWest executives, and the paper's editorial page editor asked to be re-assigned. He was. But editor-in-chief Peter Stockland says that move was planned long before the national editorial controversy.

Southam publishes newspapers in most of Canada's major cities, including Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary and Ottawa as well as Montreal.