Media

Andrew Coyne resigns over censored column

Despite ‘unprecedented’ level of editorial interference by National Post ownership, Coyne will remain as columnist
Photo: Canadian Pacific

After a weekend filled with speculation about the future of the National Post’s outspoken editorial and comment editor, Andrew Coyne made it official Monday afternoon. He has resigned as an editor with the Post, but will stay on as a columnist.

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It was reported Friday that Postmedia, the largest digital news and newspaper chain in the country, had issued orders from ownership that all their papers were to endorse the Conservative party in today’s election. The National Post is the chain’s flagship national publication.

The forced editorial endorsements, combined with front page ads for the Conservative party that appeared on many of the chain’s Saturday newspapers, left a bitter taste in the mouth of some readers, with many claiming on social media to have cancelled their subscriptions.

On Friday Canadaland reported that sources with the Post had said that Coyne the editor had signed off on a Post editorial endorsing the Harper government, but also penned a dissenting opinion he planned to publish on Saturday.

Instead ownership spiked the column from Canada’s best known pundit.

Speculation built over the weekend that the editor might be parting ways with the newspaper, fuelled by the Twitter silence of Coyne, who is normally a prolific tweeter.

‘Unprecedented’ levels of editorial interference

Shortly before noon EST on Monday, Coyne broke his silence with a series of 15 numbered tweets explaining that he had resigned from his editorial role with the paper.

He acknowledged what had already been reported, that the newspaper’s editorial line had been decided by ownership, and said he was fine with that: “the owners and managers of a newspaper have a perfect right to set the paper’s editorial line as they wish.”

His concerns, he tweeted, were twofold: that “there should be no suggestion that I was personally endorsing or voting for the Conservatives” and “that I could not do my job as a columnist if I was obliged to stay silent where these [opinions] conflicted with those of management.”

He described Postmedia’s intervention as “unprecedented,” and explained that he “could not allow the precedent to stand. So to protect my reputation and preserve my editorial freedom as a columnist, I felt it necessary to resign the editorial position.”

He concluded that he would be casting his ballot for the NDP candidate in his riding (presumably the subject of the censored column) and said the Conservatives don‘t deserve re-election, while the Liberals don’t deserve a majority.

Ricochet reached out to Coyne and National Post editor-in-chief Anne Marie Owens for comment. Coyne responded that he would let his series of tweets speak for themselves, and Owens did not immediately respond. We’ll update if and when we hear from her or the Post.

As Ricochet reported Saturday, this isn’t the first censorship scandal to rock the Post during this election campaign, after an anti-Harper column by author Margaret Atwood was censored by the newspaper’s owners in August. Coyne was the editor of record for that column as well, but remained silent about what happened at the time.

Having been overruled in his editorial judgement by ownership twice in the span of a few months, it’s not hard to understand Coyne’s decision to resign. How can an editor do their job if their decisions are repeatedly overruled by owners who have a clear political agenda and tolerate no dissent?

What’s an endorsement worth anyway?

It’s been a tough election cycle for Canada’s newspapers, and in particular the legions of hard-working and dedicated journalists and editors who have seen their credibility compromised by the ham-fisted meddling of owners with a vested interest in returning the Conservatives to government.

Newspapers are in the business of providing a platform for a variety of views, and their most important democratic role is to provide a space for dissent. If a paper no longer tolerates criticism of the government at inopportune (and important) moments, then can it even be said to be a newspaper anymore?

In future campaigns it’s hard to imagine that newspaper endorsements will be paid any attention by a populace wary that they represent the advancement of corporate interests, rather than the wisdom of editors.

Who owns Postmedia?

Postmedia’s largest shareholder is a U.S. hedge fund named GoldenTree Asset Management. According to a January report in the Toronto Star, “GoldenTree and its fellow hedge-fund investors in Postmedia thrive on acquiring distressed properties on the cheap and milking their remaining assets.”

These hedge funds put a Canadian face on their asset by appointing Paul Godfrey as CEO According to the Star, he has employed “ slash-and-burn tactics at some of Canada’s most important media outlets … in large part to make debt payments to Greentree and Postmedia’s other offshore debt-holders.”

“In truth,” reports the Star, “there’s little of substance to Godfrey’s strategy beyond cost cutting and asset stripping.”

That and, apparently, “unprecedented” levels of editorial interference to keep the Harper Conservatives in power.

It’s a sad state of affairs for a newspaper industry already struggling to survive, and if the many social media users threatening to cancel their subscriptions follow through GoldenTree may soon find that you can indeed put a price on a newspaper’s credibility.

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