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News Group Censorship is Irresponsible

ARC press release, Friday, September 25, 1998

David Black, publisher of the News Group of some 80 newspapers, recently directed his editors not to run any 'pro-Nisga'a Treaty' pieces. In addition, Mr. Black commissioned an 8-part series by writer Mel Smith, former adviser to the Bill Vander Zalm and the Socreds, to criticize the Treaty. Mr. Black admitted he is "not an expert on the agreement. I just know it's wrong."

The Aboriginal Rights Coalition of Victoria says that censoring pro-Nisga'a editorials is an act of irresponsible corporate citizenship. Coalition President Waldemar Braul states: "Mr. Black is entitled to criticize the Treaty - no problems there. We strongly disagree, however, with Mr. Black's notion that his censorship is done altruistically to serve the public interest. Censorship will only lead to divisiveness and misunderstanding."

The Aboriginal Rights Coalition believes that civil and principled debate - not blunt censorship - should precede political decisions about whether to ratify the Nisga'a Treaty. Mr. Black could have shown true leadership by sponsoring a vigorous and fair debate. Mr. Black should test his views in the public arena. If they truly hold water, they would survive scrutiny.

Mr.  Black's censorship appears to go so far as to even block notice of future events which might provide a positive view of the Treaty. Waldemar Braul explains:   "On September 17, we sponsored Chief Joe Gosnell's talk on the Nisga'a Treaty in Victoria.  Some 11 days before the talk, we provided notice of the talk to Mr.   Black's Victoria News so that it could, as it normally does for many community groups, run it as part of the place its schedule of public events.  Neither the Victoria News nor any of its sister publications such as the Saanich News ran the notice.   In spite of this lack of notice, close to 200 persons came out to hear Chief Gosnells talk.  Had they known about the lecture, many other interested citizens could have attended to find out more about the Treaty.  A News Group reporter was there and Chief Gosnell took time to answer his questions, but there has been no subsequent reporting.  All the more credit, then, to Shaw Cable which televised the event and will broadcast it several times in October."

Braul goes on to say that Black's censorship is especially problematic because he relies heavily on Mel Smith:  "The public interest would be well-served if Mr.   Smith's commentary is subjected to scrutiny. There are many people out there who are well-qualified to rebut Mr. Smith's questionable views:  lawyers who have actually conducted aboriginal rights litigation, average citizens, scholars who have done peer-reviewed analysis on aboriginal matters, and First Nations who feel that treaties can serve as the basis for new harmonious relations.  The Aboriginal Rights Coalition has serious concerns about Mr.  Smith's analysis and conclusions, and would be pleased to offer an alternative 8-part series of views."