Canada: Media giant sues pro-Palestinian activists

Issue 

Canada's largest media group is suing Palestinian solidarity activists who created a parody version of the Vancouver Sun newspaper.

The parody newspaper, produced by the Vancouver-based Palestine Media Collective (PMC) in June 2007, aimed to expose the pro-Israeli and anti-Palestinian bias of Canwest, which owns the Vancouver Sun.

In Australia, Canwest is, through a wholly owned subsidiary, the majority and controlling shareholder of the TEN Television Network.

In 2003, Canwest founder Izzy Asper boasted of the bias, telling the Jerusalem Post, "In all of our newspapers, including the National Post, we have a very pro-Israel position … we are the strongest supporter of Israel in Canada".

Canwest are suing two activists associated with the PMC, Carel Moiseiwitsch and Gordon Murray, and one other person accused of being a distributor, Mordecai Briemberg.

Some 12,000 of the parody newspaper were produced and included article headlines such as "Study Shows Truth Biased against Israel" and "Celebrating 40 years of liberating the West Bank".

Launched in December 2007, the case accuses the three of "conspiring" to create and distribute the parody.

Due to the anonymous nature of the parody, the original writ aimed to incriminate the printer, a lone distributor and several other unidentified people. The creators since revealed themselves in July, opening themselves up for legal action.

Canwest argues that the publication is a commercial violation of trademark and have proposed a list of remedies, which includes a restraint that could prevent defendants "publishing injurious falsehoods by way of newspapers or other publications, on the internet or otherwise".

The Seriously Free Speech Committee has been set up to defend the accused and raise awareness of the threat to free speech by media consolidation. On its website, SFSC explains: "Imagine the implications for the Charter (Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms) right to free speech if Canwest can shut down debate on any contentious issue with such a lawsuit."

In solidarity, Canadian satirical gossip magazine Frank printed the parody front cover on its May 6 print edition. Frank editor Michael Bate has challenged Canwest to sue him too.

Honorary members of the SFSC include prominent journalists and authors such as John Pilger, Naomi Klein, Noam Chomsky and Tariq Ali.

The campaign has received trade union support through the Canadian Labour Congress. Even the union covering Vancouver Sun workers, the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union Local 2000, has offered support.

The SFSC argues that the case is a classic example of a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, or a SLAPP case.

The Canadian province of British Colombia had previously instituted an anti-SLAPP law in 2001, but this has since been repealed. The use of SLAPP cases has become widespread by companies trying to avoid embarrassment created by public exposure.

In Australia, Gunns Ltd aimed to target activists campaigning against the pulp mill proposed for Tasmania's Tamar Valley, with the defendants infamously dubbed the "Gunns 20". The activists argued that Gunns were trying to silence dissent, in a classic example of a SLAPP case.

Other high profile examples include the McLibel case, where two British activists tried to expose the unethical practices of McDonald's through a leaflet, and even Oprah Winfrey has been accused of causing damage to the United States' cattle industry.

The French Canadian province of Quebec instituted anti-SLAPP legislation after an outcry over a destructive SLAPP case taken against the provinces oldest and most influential environmental groups by a scrap metal company, American Iron and Metal.

Around 25 US states have anti-SLAPP legislation on the books.

To find out more about the case and to find out how to offer support, visit .