SERIOUSLY FREE SPEECH COMMITTEE.
Don’t Let Canwest SLAPP* Briemberg and YOU !
Imagine you go to a public meeting on the Middle East; you see a humorous parody of the local daily, pick up a few copies and hand them out. Six months later you are served with a writ of summons that charges you with producing the parody, that threatens to cost you tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees, that takes up hundreds of hours of your time and aims to prevent you from expressing your opinions in future. Impossible? A Kafkaesque fantasy? This is what is happening to Mordecai Briemberg in Vancouver today and we need your help to stop it.
In early June, 2007, a parody of The Vancouver Sun newspaper was produced and copies distributed. The parody, a slim four-page edition, coincided with the 40th year of the continuous Israeli occupation of territories it conquered in the 1967 war. The parody focused on the biased media coverage of Israel/Palestine in The Vancouver Sun.
Mordecai Briemberg attended a meeting at the Vancouver Public Library to commemorate the event and to oppose the continuing occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. At the end of the meeting, on a table, was a pile of tabloid sheets- one sheet, four sides, which parodied The Vancouver Sun — Vancouver’s leading daily and a Canwest publication. We cannot show you the parody without risking being sued ourselves, although we can send you the text of what was in it. So the chill begins.
The banner at the top of the front page dates the issue as “Occupation Day, June 2007”. In place of the usual “Seriously Westcoast since 1912” appears “Seriously Zionist since 2001”, the first full year of Canwest ownership. The parody has a lead article by “P. Rupa Ghanda” titled “Celebrating 40 Years of Civilizing The West Bank” Another article by “Cyn Sorsheep is titled “Study Shows Truth Biased Against Israel”. In these and other articles, including mock ads, there are criticisms of Israeli policies in occupied Palestine and a critique of the Canwest media’s pro Israel policies. On the inside page there is a box with the headline- “Who Produced This Vancouver Sun Parody and Why?” It attributes the authorship of the tabloid to the “Palestine Media Collective, a group of direct action media critics concerned about mainstream media coverage of the situation in the Middle East”. It includes a list of “Some Alternative Media Sources on the Middle East”. It is cleverly done, although it is not a very challenging exercise in media analysis to realize this is not the ‘real’ Vancouver Sun, any more than the “Jean Chrétien” or “Stephen Harper” heard on CBC’s Air Farce were or are the Prime Minister.
There is a long and honourable history of satire and parody as a tool of political criticism and comment from Hogarth and Daumier in the 19th century to Rick Mercer and Stephen Colbert.
Mordecai was amused by the parody, picked up a handful of copies from a table and distributed them at a bus stop near his home. That was the sole extent of his involvement.
The Canwest suit lists a print shop and Mordecai as named defendants, and then pads the list out with six unnamed defendants: John Doe #1, John Doe #2, John Doe #3, and Jane Doe #1, Jane Doe #2, Jane Doe #3. While ostensibly centering on a commercial violation of trade mark, the charges read like a political attack. They assert that Mordecai and the six John/Jane Doe defendants have been involved in “anti-Israeli and pro-Palestinian media activities”, and have written or spoken “harshly critical of the State of Israel and of the plaintiff and anyone who publishes articles or views which the defendants perceive to be contrary to their own views”. In Canwest’s Writ of Summons Mordecai’s name is repeatedly linked to Canada Palestine Support Network, a group that is not even alleged to have anything to do with the parody. They demand a sweeping variety of remedies including an injunction restraining the defendants from “publishing injurious falsehoods by way of newspapers or other publications, on the internet or otherwise”.
Is Canwest to be the arbiter of “falsehood”? Imagine the implications of that for the Charter right to free speech. Galileo had a similar problem with the Pope on the question of whether the sun revolved around the earth or vice versa.
Answering the accusation of being involved with the creation of the parody, Mordecai responds- “I have always been proud to publish anything I have to say under my own name, and to hold myself accountable for my words, ideas and actions. But, I had nothing to do with the conception, creation, production and financing of this satire and have no idea who did”. The lawyer for Canwest has confirmed in writing that they have no documents whatsoever showing Mordecai Briemberg’s involvement in any of the allegations made against him. Yet Canwest still refuses to drop their suit! So… for the act of picking up and distributing a handful of parodied copies of the Vancouver Sun, lying on a table at a public meeting, Mordecai has been taken to court by a media giant with unlimited financial resources and a big time grudge against any criticism of Israel.
Why Mordecai Briemberg?
Mordecai Briemberg is a long time activist in peace and social justice causes. His activism goes back to the early sixties when he joined the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament as a student in the UK on a Rhodes scholarship. Continuing this anti-nuclear work, he was a public part of the international campaign to free the Israeli nuclear whistle-blower Mordechai Vanunu and contributed to the creation of a professional theatrical production about him. He has a long involvement with anti-racism work: in Canada combating racism against first nations peoples and immigrants, internationally against apartheid in South Africa. And this includes combating the racism of Israeli state policies and practices against Palestinians.
Mordecai has written for magazines and papers, published research, spoken at union conventions, churches, peace forums, universities and colleges, been interviewed on television and radio, interviewed others on radio, organized demonstrations, organized public meetings for, among many others, internationally renowned Palestinians like the poet Mahmoud Darwish and the intellectual activist Dr. Naseer Aruri, Jewish-Israelis like the late Professor Israel Shahak, chairman of the Israeli League for Human and Civil Rights and Michel Warshawsky founder of the Alternative Information Center. In short, Mordecai has been a prominent, vocal and effective voice in the intense debate about how to achieve peace and justice for Palestinians and Jews in historic Palestine. That is why they are going after him!
Who is CANWEST?
Canwest is the largest media conglomerate in Canada. What they don’t own is a shorter list than what they do. They describe themselves as “Canada’s largest publisher of paid English-language paid English-language daily newspapers with an estimated weekly readership of 4.8 million people. Our papers include the National Post, ten major-market dailies and several community newspapers.” They own the Global television network, the History, Food and Showcase channels and through various shareholdings are involved with many more outlets in every medium. If you read or watch the news, chances are just about certain, you read or watch Canwest news. In Vancouver, where this case is based, they own about seventy percent of the news outlets- from dailies to weeklies to television.
The company is owned by the Asper family of Winnipeg. Founder Israel (Izzy) Asper died a few years ago and the company is now in the hands of his son Leonard. Father and son were/are passionate Zionists and make sure that what they own echoes what they think. In an interview in the Jerusalem Post in August of 2003, Izzy Asper stated: “In all our newspapers…we have a very pro-Israel position…we are the strongest supporter of Israel in Canada”. For more about these folks and their political views you can look for The Asper Nation- a book by Marc Edge, published by New Star Books or The Tyee on line issue of Nov, 23, 2007- “The Asper Slam on News Media,” one of three Tyee excerpts from Marc Edge’s book.
Why should I care?
If you believe in freedom of expression on any topic and have ever expressed a view contrary to the status quo you should care a whole bunch. This is what has been called a *SLAPP suit- Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation. The concept and acronym were coined in the eighties to describe a tactic used by the rich and powerful, governments or corporations, to bully critics and shut down public discussion by threatening dissidents with legal costs and broad prohibitions against speaking out.
If they can bully Mordecai, they can bully you! Whatever the subject, whatever you say, Canwest’s actions set a dangerous precedent for any and all who express an opinion someone with money disagrees with. Canadian troops in Afghanistan? Environmental issues? Aboriginal rights? Tasers in the hands of the police? You name it; they can sue you. They may not win but it will cost you plenty in time, money and the stress of wondering if that article or speech will land you in a whole mess of trouble. Its intent is to bully those who don’t own media conglomerates and have legions of lawyers on retainer, i.e. YOU!
What can I do?
• Don’t let Canwest intimidate you into silence. Get this document, electronically and in hardcopy, out to as many people as you can, in all walks of life, so that those who share a commitment to defend, maintain, and use the democratic right of free speech know of this case.
• Sign our statement demanding Canwest drop its legal suit against Mordecai Briemberg and stop its harassment. Circulate the petition far and wide, amongst friends and coworkers. Encourage others to do likewise. You can sign-up on line at email@example.com .
• Write letters to Canwest and mail them c/o their lawyer: David Church, Church & Company, 900-1040 West Georgia Street, Vancouver British Columbia, V6C 3H4, Canada. Please copy Seriously Free Speech Committee with your letters.
• Join the Seriously Free Speech Committee if you live in greater Vancouver.
Contact us at:
Seriously Free Speech Committee,
PO Box 57112,
RPO East Hastings Street,
• Contribute financially to help defray the unavoidable legal costs. Make donations payable to: “Seriously Free Speech Committee” and mail them to the address noted above.
Where can I find out more?
We have a dossier on the case which includes the text of the parody, the writ, background materials on Canwest and the Aspers, etc. We will be happy to send it to you in either electronic or hard copy. This and more information will be posted on our web site noted above.
Brian Campbell and Jef Keighley
Co-Chairs, Seriously Free Speech Committee
Who is the Seriously Free Speech Committee?
The Seriously Free Speech Committee (SFSC) has been formed specifically to counter a politically motivated campaign by the Canwest media group to punish and silence Mordecai Briemberg because of his long-time public advocacy for what he believes to be the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people. The founding core of the SFCC are individuals within Greater Vancouver involved in progressive political work both domestically and internationally The SFSC does not advocate for any particular analysis of the contentious issues concerning Israeli and Palestinian rights and practices; nor are we proposing some single, specific resolution of this humanly costly conflict. Rather the committee unites around a commitment to advocate for open and public discussion of these issues. When a broad spectrum of perspectives and information are made available for consideration — free of harassment, intimidation or censorship — people at large can reflect on these and draw their own conclusions. The SFSC recognizes that monopolization of media ownership in our society is antithetical to the expression and sharing of diverse opinions. The Seriously Free Speech Committee welcomes all who broadly agree with our aims and perspective to support and join this work to achieve success.