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February 27, 2012

A light in Ottawa is extinguished

The Canadian Charger

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On February 9, Bell Media discharged 16 Ottawa staff, including CFRA talk-show host Michael Harris (No, not that Michael Harris). This one is a left wing, pro-Palestinian guy. So he is out the door. So are 15 others. So what? He was assured that his discharge had nothing to do with the quality of his work.

It just so happens that CFRA is a vitriolic right-wing vehicle, which Google gently identifies as “conservative”.  Harris was the sole alternative voice.  He had been with the station for 11 years. 

Now that he is gone, where is an alternative voice at the station? 

Richard Gray, general manager of CTV Ottawa, was the designated executioner in this affair. We asked him in an e-mail, “In the light of the staff reductions, which eliminated the one on-line staffer who is not conservative, what is being done to provide some measure of ideological balance?”  We should have said “on-air”.  The message was sent on February 14, and there still has been no response.

Perhaps it is mere coincidence, but on February 1, iPolitics posted an article by Harris, “Canada will be on the sidelines in search for Middle East peace.”  In it, he castigated Canada for its pro-Israel policy and attacked Israel itself.  He referred to the Jenin massacre and to the l967 borders.  He also listed several current Israeli policies that stifle dissent and discriminate against Palestinians.  The article received a rejoinder posted on February 7 from Shimon Fogel, CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.  The rejoinder responded only to some of Harris’ points.

In an e-mail, Fogel was asked to comment specifically on other charges that Harris made.  Celebration of the Nakba is outlawed.  Boycott of Israeli businesses and institutions operating in the West Bank subjects the boycotter to a suit for damages.  Israeli Palestinians marrying a spouse from the West Bank have virtually insurmountable difficulty in gaining resident status for the spouse.  Fogel did not respond.

While it is a matter of conjecture as to whether there is a connection between the dismissal and Harris’ article in iPolitics, one thing is very clear; Bell Media, with its holdings of CFRA, Team 1200, Majic 100, BOB-FM, and CTV, all in Ottawa, has a strangle hold on English-language broadcasting in the private sector.  It is totally inappropriate for regulators to allow one corporate entity to control this amount of radio and television outlets in a single listening area.

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M. Elmasry

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