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CanWest distorts CLC position on Free Trade

Monday, October 4, 2004

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Written by Scott Piatkowski

I usually try to avoid reading The National Post, as blatant media bias (not just a proliferation of right-wing columnists, which can bring a certain amount of comic relief, but actual skewed reporting of the news) tends to give me a headache.

Occasionally, however, someone will draw my attention to a story that no one other than The Post and other CanWest publications is covering. That’s how, last Wednesday, I ended up reading a story that both surprised and saddened me. “We were wrong about free trade, CLC”, read the headline on the article, which went on to report that “the Canadian Labour Congress, one of the fiercest foes of free trade with the United States, is officially abandoning its position today, acknowledging that free trade has not been the ‘economic disaster’ the labour group had predicted at the time.”

As someone who tries to keep on top of emerging debates in the labour movement and the political left in general, I was puzzled that I hadn’t heard about any decision to reverse positions on such an important issue. I searched other media websites and the CLC website itself in vain for anything on the CLC reversing its trade policy.

So, did The National Post have a scoop on its hands with this story? If one is using the word “scoop” in the context of “the city has adopted a stoop and scoop bylaw”, then yes they did. But, if the traditional journalistic definition of “scoop” was intended (breaking a news story that nobody else knows about), then this story doesn’t qualify. You see, a true news scoop has to be true, and this one wasn’t.

It is true that CLC President Ken Georgetti gave a speech on Wednesday in which he commented that “omelettes are not easily unscrambled,” but he also said “in many, many ways, our critique of the FTA was correct.” That is far from the kind of stunning policy reversal that CanWest was attempting to conjure up. Indeed you can read the entire text of Georgetti’s remarks -- and the entire text of the discussion paper released at the same time – and you won’t find anything to indicate that the CLC was abandoning its opposition to bad trade agreements, let alone anything indicating that the organization was “wrong” to have fought such deals in the first place. This spin appears to have been a product of the reporter’s own wishful thinking, based in large measure on CanWest’s political leanings.

Understandably, Georgetti was more than a little outraged by this mischaracterization of his remarks. In a message to CLC affiliates released the same day as the erroneous newspaper report, Georgetti wrote the following:

The CanWest chain (publishers of The National Post), in a front page story this morning, alleged that, in a speech I was to deliver at the Canadian Labour Congress “Industrial Policy Conference”, I said that we were wrong about free trade and were not opposed to the free trade agreements.

The story is a deliberate and malicious falsification of what I said. The actual speech that I delivered, which is identical to the copy the National Post had, is posted on the CLC website (www.clc-ctc.ca). I encourage you to go to the website and read the speech.

We are not going to allow the National Post to get away with this misrepresentation of the position of the CLC or its Officers.

The CLC has instructed its legal counsel to immediately initiate legal action against National Post and other newspapers in the CanWest chain, which continues to propagate these lies.

This is also the newspaper chain that has been criticized by Reuters and Associated Press for altering the text of their stories to reflect the political ideology of the papers’ owners.

We continue to oppose NAFTA and other similar trade deals. And we continue to call for government action to protect Canadian jobs, develop a healthy manufacturing sector and invest in needed public services.

While the misrepresentation of the CLC’s position was a sign of ideology trumping good journalism, it is equally unfortunate that no other news organizations picked up on what really was said at labour’s Industrial Strategy Conference. Canadians deserve to have access to information on the CLC’s ideas just as often as they have access to those of the Fraser Institute and Canadian Council of Chief Executives.

Moreover, it would make sense for someone other than the Council of Canadians, the CLC and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives to do a real analysis of the real affects of recent trade agreements. Those agreements – which are more like a “charter of corporate rights” than actual trade agreements – have done nothing to stop American protectionism (witness their illegal tariffs on softwood lumber, steel, wheat, etc.), and they have indeed come at the cost of both many quality jobs and many cherished social programs.

Pending trade agreements such as the Free Trade Area of the Americans (FTAA), the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), and the Multilateral Investment Agreement (MIA) stand to exacerbate those negative impacts and make them even harder to reverse. Don’t expect to read anything about that in The National Post.

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