Toronto Star chairman, John Honderich, is calling out PostMedia CEO, Paul Godfrey, for gagging his papers' editors and forcing them, all 16, to endorse Stephen Harper in the last election.
“Since God made babies, I think (endorsement editorials) were always made that way,” longtime Conservative Godfrey explained later, reacting to the uproar. “If anyone thinks otherwise, I think they were dreaming in Technicolor.”
Really, Mr. Godfrey?
You might want to examine the policies of other newspaper chains that tell an entirely different bedtime story of the so-called “proprietor’s prerogative.”
No one can dispute the tradition of an individual publisher or owner calling the election shots for their local paper. Godfrey did that regularly when he was publisher of the Toronto Sun.
But to dictate the choice across an entire chain – and nation. That is an entirely different tale.
Consider the previous owners of Postmedia papers, the venerable Southam family.
It went to great lengths to emphasize individual publishers in each city were responsible for all editorial content, including election endorsements. “It was even in my letter of engagement,” remembers veteran Southam publisher Clark Davey. “It said what appeared in the (Vancouver) Sun rested on my conscience.”
The reason, of course, was self-evident. What was important or relevant to readers in Vancouver might not be so in Montreal, Ottawa or Windsor.
Owning a newspaper, in my view, is a privilege not a right. Nor is it the same as owning a pizzeria or car wash. Newspapers are an essential informing part of the democratic process and their first responsibility must be to the local readers they serve.
The old Thomson chain in Canada, owned by the richest family in the land, had a similar practice of non-interference in local editorial issues.
South of the border a similar tradition has existed for decades. In the last presidential election, America was a patchwork quilt of competing newspaper endorsements.
The huge Gannett chain states that “diversity is strength. By encouraging and expressing a mix of opinions, backgrounds, stories and ideas, Gannett improves results.”
An executive for the large Knight-Ridder chain put it more pithily. “We bought them (newspapers). But we don’t own them.”
We can only hope that The Guardian is right and PostMedia is on a one way path to the graveyard. When it comes to PostMedia and its newly acquired Sun chain, Canada can do without quite nicely.