Pulling bylines for freedom

by Yule Heibel on October 28, 2003

A Quebec labour tribunal just handed down what’s being called a landmark decision: “‘journalists have the right to withhold their byline as they see fit’ because our names belong to us, not the company,” as the Toronto Star’s Antonia Zerbesias writes in Bylines more than just a name. This is good news in an age of not-at-all-good corporate media ownership. Here in Canada, most city dailies are owned by CanWest Global, which is controlled by Winnipeg’s philanthropically-minded Asper family. In December 2001, the journalists of the Montreal Gazette, another Asper-owned paper, went on a byline strike to protest the imposition of national editorials. The journalists saw that the Asper family uses the cross-country chain of newspapers they own to further their private agendas. These Asper-sponsored editorials — 3 per week — could furthermore not be contradicted by any other editorials in the papers. It was a kind of media Gleichschaltung of the sort happening with frightening regularity these days, and the Gazette’s reporters protested by collectively pulling their bylines. But two days later, they were ordered to reinstate them. And they were given a gag order, forbidden to talk to other journalists about what was going on. Democracy in Canada, eh? But now the Quebec tribunal has ruled that the reporters do own their names, …and can pull them, signalling protest. As Zerbesias puts it:

Now, before you start thinking this is fine for us keyboard-punching scribes but what does it have to do with you, consider that, sometimes, all that stands between you and the corporate media suits, is us.

If this ruling is applied to the rest of Canada, and it might well be if used as a precedent in other cases, then journalists will have a way of calling attention to what we feel is something that doesn’t belong in the paper. Like, say, a blatantly self-serving story about the company that owns the paper.

In a merged and converged media time and place like Canada, where there seems to be too much of that going around, that is not only in the reporters’ interest but also in the public’s.


Doug Alder October 29, 2003 at 7:52 pm

Tat is a great court decision! I’ll take Canadian democracy over Anerican any day of the week 🙂

Yule Heibel October 30, 2003 at 8:59 pm

I agree — the court went the right way. CanWest Global is a mono-culture — every website of the newspapers they own is identical. Very sad.

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