On Thursday, February 9, 2012, Bell Media, owners of CTV and CFRA Radio in Ottawa, fired talk show host Michael Harris. Harris is a journalist of the highest integrity, a Woodrow Wilson Scholar and award-winning author of numerous books, four of which have sparked Canadian Royal Commissions. He has been outspoken on Palestinian rights, environmental issues and the Harper government's undemocratic behaviour, just to name a few.
The station also fired 15 others on the same day but they were not controversial, high-profile individuals of Mr. Harris' calibre. Bell Media, of course, denies that he was fired because of his views and cites corporate restructuring as the reason for all the dismissals. An examination of the facts indicates otherwise. Two extremely right-wing talk show hosts were retained while Harris was fired; one, Lowell Green, is 75 years old and in poor health, and the second, Nick Vandergragt, is a recent hire and right-wing militarist who comes to the air waves with a strong background in truck driving.
John Counsell, another right-winger in the 10 p.m. to midnight time slot was also kept on. It is doubtful that Counsell gets any ratings worth mentioning as he actually shouts through the whole two-hour program. Why fire a mid-day host and not a late-night host? Ten to midnight is a relatively unimportant time slot that on many stations is filled with syndicated programming. Are we to believe that keeping three right-wingers and firing the one balancing voice was purely a business decision? No media organization will admit to firing someone for their views unless the individual made a blatantly racist statement (although Muslims and Arabs seem to be fair game these days). In light of the facts, can anyone be blamed for believing that Harris was fired for speaking truth to power.
Being fired is not a new experience for Michael Harris. His refusal to cease his investigative reporting into allegations of abuse at the Mount Cashel orphanage in Newfoundland led to his firing from a St. John's newspaper. The resulting book, Unholy Orders: Tragedy at Mount Cashel, won the Book of the Year, Foundation for the Advancement of Canadian Letters award in 1991.
More recently in April 2011, he was fired from the Sun newspaper chain (owned by the right-wing Quebecor group with strong ties to the Prime Minister's office), after writing a series of articles critical of the Harper government. He suspects that a column he wrote just before the May 2011 election titled "Harper no longer on high moral ground," was the stimulus for his dismissal.
Mr. Harris has told this writer several times in correspondence over the years that he has been under attack for his support of Palestinian human rights. It was obvious to regular listeners who are well versed in the powers and tactics of the Zionist lobby that this was no doubt the case. There would be bursts of discussion on the Middle East followed by periods where no matter what atrocity was being committed on the ground he would not raise the event as a topic and instead engaged in more typical talk show fare; Tiger Woods, cats, violence in hockey, Valentine's Day, etc. Mr. Harris like the rest of us has to eat and pay the rent.
A year or so ago, after a particularly long silence on Palestine, there was a change. One day he opened his show with a lengthy monologue about standing up for the principals that one believes in and ending with a quote by Martin Luther King: "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter." Since that day, his shows, while maintaining balance and presenting a variety of opinion, have been a right-wing ideologue's worst nightmare.
Not only did he begin to talk about Israel-Palestine again, he also addressed with even greater intensity and more directly, topics of deep significance to our globalized world. For example, the no-strings-attached bailout of U.S. banks in 2008, the 1 per cent that would turn us all into "corporate serfs," environmental issues -- from declining fish stocks to the Keystone pipeline, Monsanto, food sovereignty and Stephen Harper's multi-facetted and unrelenting attacks on democracy.
In the past weeks he spoke a great deal about Caterpillar's shutting down of the Electro-Motive Diesel plant in London, Ontario using it as a springboard to highlight the general assault on unions and the betrayal of public interests by our government. The Ontario and federal governments provided millions of dollars in incentives to Caterpillar just 18 months ago but are now taking the position that they can't interfere with the company's business decision and are not calling for a return of public funds.
His firing from CFRA takes place after a concerted attack from the Council for Israel and Jewish Advocacy (CIJA), following a detailed article he wrote in iPolitics highlighting Israeli human rights violations and lambasting the Harper government's lack of balance on Middle East issues.
Was Harris' most recent firing a result of pressure from CIJA? We will probably never know but when a child is beaten in the schoolyard it is only normal to suspect the school bully. Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery has opined that Israel's policies are a petri dish for anti-Semitism. The Zionist lobby in Canada may someday find that their tactics have created some very unfavourable results. Comment boards on the websites of major news organizations such as the Globe and Mail and the CBC clearly indicate that a very large number of Canadians are increasingly aware and aghast at the influence of the Zionist lobby on our media and government and refuse to be bullied into silent complicity with Israel's daily crimes against Palestinians.
The silencing of Michael Harris is a tremendous loss of important information and debate in the nation's capital but the man has resurrected from two firings in the past. While his light has been extinguished on the airwaves, my bet is that we will see that bright spark rise again somewhere else soon. My hope would be a book on the destruction of Canadian democracy by the Zionist lobby.
Linda Belanger is a writer and activist from Ottawa, Canada. She has been published in Dissident Voice, Counterpunch, and Palestine Chronicle. This article was first published in Dissident Voice.
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