The defendants in a lawsuit brought by CanWest MediaWorks Publications Inc. over a Vancouver Sun parody got support this week from a magazine editor who knows much about satire and getting sued.
Ottawa-based Frank magazine reprinted the cover of the fake Sun in its May 6 print edition and last week posted a PDF of the four-page publication on its Web site, available by subscription.
“I thought it was something we should do,” said Frank editor Michael Bate, who went to high school in B.C. and still has family in the province. The parody was heavy-handed and not particularly amusing, he said, but he defended its producers’ right to make and distribute the paper. “It’s standing up for their right to try to be satirical.”
A CanWest spokesperson, Tammy Bender, said the company was unlikely to talk about a matter that is before the courts but that she would try to find someone to comment. Nobody was available by the Straight's deadline.
CanWest filed the suit in December against Mordecai Briemberg, Vancouver print shop Horizon Publications Ltd., its president, Garth Leddy, and six unknown Jane and John Does. The spoof poked fun at what the authors see as a pro-Israel bias in CanWest news coverage.
In its December 7 statement of claim, CanWest alleged that “Briemberg is the webmaster/administrator of a website called Canpalnet-Vancouver.org (”˜Canpalnet’), which styles itself as a Palestine support network”¦Canpalnet regularly publishes anti-Israeli/pro-Palestinian articles.” The statement further alleged: “Each of the defendants is involved, directly or indirectly, in publishing articles, on the internet and otherwise, which are pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli and which articles, among other things, are directed at the plaintiff and its principal shareholders and other individuals and corporations who, in the opinion of the defendants, express support for the State of Israel.”
Asked about Frank reprinting the spoof, Briemberg said: “I really don’t have a comment on that”¦People do what they think is appropriate. I distributed it. I thought that was appropriate.”
After consulting with a lawyer, Leddy said he couldn’t comment on Frank’s action while the litigation continues. He did say that an “unidentified person” brought the Vancouver Sun parody to the printing company in June 2007 and “represented it falsely as a job being done for one of the universities”. The company does lots of work for colleges and universities and didn’t question it, he said.
He also said employees did not look at the content before printing it, other than for technical details like registration marks that they needed to do the work. One worker did notice the content while the job was printing, he added, but didn’t bring it to management’s attention because he thought it did not seem unusual for a college job.
Bate said CanWest’s lawsuit is like “going after a fly with a hammer”.
“It’s really fucking outrageous,” he exclaimed, adding that he doesn’t like the Asper family, which controls CanWest. “I don’t like the bullying tactics. This is bullying and intimidation.”
Bate, who estimated he has been subjected to legal action of some kind at least 100 times over things he’s printed, said the CanWest suit shows Canadian libel laws are antiquated. Anyone who feels even a little wounded or slighted can wrap a critic up in expensive legal proceedings, he said.
“They’ve got the money to do it,” Bate said, referring to the Aspers.
CanWest owns the National Post and 10 daily newspapers in Canada. In B.C., it owns the Sun, the Province, Victoria’s Times-Colonist, several community newspapers, and Global Television. “They’ve got the whole chain and they’ve got to squash others in the process,” he said.
“Where’s the freedom of speech there?”
Bate said he hopes CanWest will sue him too.
A panel discussion about the lawsuit and media concentration will take place at SFU Harbour Centre on Wednesday (May 14) at 7:30 p.m.
» View the full front page of the Vancouver Sun parody. [PDF]
» Read the parody's full text (four pages). [PDF]