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RM Issue #040131

Not a good week for the Liberal press

By DOUGLAS FISHER -- Sun Ottawa Bureau

OTTAWA -- In my opinion, the more meaningful media story of the past week - in terms of consequences to come in national politics - is not the RCMP raid on the home of an Ottawa Citizen reporter over a story she wrote about Maher Arar, but the resignation of Toronto Star publisher John Honderich.

The Citizen reporter, Juliet O'Neill, wrote a story last fall indicating Canadian and U.S. authorities had material that contradicted Arar's claims he had no link to al-Qaida terrorists.

An unstated but obvious corollary to the story was that it somewhat justified the rough treatment Arar had had in Syria. As a reader I kept waiting for a ministerial explanation, perhaps an absolute denial.

Reporters of several papers pressed American and Canadian officials for the whole story. Since then, Arar himself has spoken out about his experience, and his demands for an inquiry into why he, as a Canadian citizen, was sent by the Americans into the hands of the Syrians have made sense to a lot of us.

Since the raid on O'Neill's home, editors, reporters, and opinion leaders from sea to sea have wrathfully criticized it as a threat to the practices and responsibilities of a free press.

How to clear away this case, giving fairness to Arar, a rebuke to those in charge of security, and real assurance to the press?

Why not toss the case into the reform Paul Martin is to unveil next week?

You know - his grand aim to end our "democratic deficit." Give MPs, long shortchanged of responsibility, this key case to examine.

Do I rate the press outrage at the raid as over-reaction? Not quite. But it should have fixed less on the RCMP as a threat to a democratic press and more on the collection of ministers - e.g., Wayne Easter, Bill Graham, John Manley, and Anne McLellan - who've flannelled us on this case over the past six months.

Now, why is the resignation of John Honderich as publisher of the Star more significant, in the long run, than the fuss over a raid of a reporter's home by the cops? Because it could mark the beginning of the end of left-wing liberal advocacy in the Star.

Honderich, rather cryptically, has said his resignation from editorial control of the Star after 10 years on the job (and 28 years in all with the Star) came from a "corporate desire for change," personalized in Robert Prichard, president and CEO of TorStar Corp.

Prichard first gained renown among our elites as the best fund- raising head the University of Toronto ever had. In short, he came to the Star to improve the bottom line, to get bigger dividends and higher share prices for those who've invested in TorStar. He brought with him uncommon familiarity with the big-money people of Canada - tycoons like Gerry Schwartz of Onex or the Desmarais family of Power Corp.

Honderich and the paper's large, well-paid cast of writers, columnists, etc., are mostly like-minded.

By and large, the attitudes and themes they express in the paper flow out of the long advocacy of social reforms begun by Joseph Atkinson as publisher a century or so ago, and modernized and strongly directed by Beland Honderich, John's father, in his long post-World War II run as Star publisher.

Simply put, the Star has been Canada's most thoroughly, consistently and openly left-of-centre newspaper, with definite political opinions and causes.

One might describe it as a closely-directed populist organ with a determined bent to modern liberalism, universal programs of health and welfare, a strong nationalism laced with anti-Americanism, lots of immigration, and scant time for wealthy corporations.

No other newspaper has put so much into policy and program imperatives at the federal, provincial, and city levels, or been such a base and educator for the Liberal parties of Canada and Ontario.

As I see it, the departure of John Honderich looks like the beginning of the end for the Star as a paper whose advocacies influence more politicians and legislation than any other.



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