Friday, July 3, 2009

Supporting Israel - Wooing CanWest, Not Jewish Voters

In my most recent blog entry I pondered the battle between Stephen Harper and Michael Ignatieff in the arena that is "Support for Israel". The leaders of our two main parties are in a battle to win the votes of Canada's Jewish constituency, or so says a recent CP news story.

The question I raised was basically...Why the fixation on such a small group? Canada has about 300,000 people who identify themselves as being of the Jewish faith, roughly the same as the number of Buddhists, or Sikhs or even Hindus. Muslims by contrast number almost 600,000 in this country. The figures available from StatsCan are from 2001, and given immigration and birth rates, its conceivable that the number of Muslims in Canada has trended significantly higher.

So is this really a battle for less than one quarter of one percentage of Canadian voters? Or is there another reason for Messieurs Ignatieff and Harper to be falling all over themselves in an effort to appear as the Canadian who is Israel's greatest champion?

In searching for another more logical answer I'm drawn to the issue of media ownership in Canada, and the trend toward the creation of media empires. Politicians rely on media to carry their message to the electorate, both in news coverage as well as in editorial and opinion pieces.

Do Canadian media giants have a bias toward Israel when it comes to conflicts and issues in the Middle East? Would a leader or a party seen as being critical of Israel have cause to worry that they might be shown in a negative light?

Israel "Izzy" Asper helped create the massive Canadian media conglomerate Canwest Global Communications. Canwest has ownership stakes in the Global Television Network, The National Post, Montreal Gazette, Vancouver Sun and a host of other newspapers as well as Internet portals and international media companies. Asper was known for his strong support of Israel, in an obituary piece the CBC reported:

"Asper was also known for his outspoken views on many political and social issues, especially his support of Israel. He often used his media outlets to call on the Canadian government to strengthen its support of Israel".

There have been numerous complaints from Canwest publications and news properties centred around a lack of editorial freedom and the need to toe the company line on controversial issues, including conflicts between Israel and the Arab world. Back in 2004 the National Council on Canada-Arab Relations called on the Ontario Press Council to investigate CanWest publications for biased reporting. They cited the fact that in the Post and Ottawa Citizen Canwest had:

"...inserted the word "terrorist" into a Middle East story reported by wire service agency Reuters, and substituted the word "terrorist" for words such as "militant and "insurgent" in an Associated Press story".

While Israel Asper has passed away CanWest is now run by President and CEO Leonard Asper, with David Asper as Executive Vice President and Chairman of the National Post.

Granted CanWest is just one of Canada's media empires, but there's no mistaking its size. It certainly seems more logical to suggest that Michael Ignatieff and Stephen Harper are catering to the views of a media giant as opposed to worrying about the votes of a mere .2 % or so of Canadian electors.

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