The Difference between Fact and Political Spin in Canadian Corporate Media

What’s the difference between fact and political spin in Canada’s “national” newspaper?

Not much if a recent Globe and Mail article is any indication.

In an article about the overthrow of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, foreign affairs reporter Campbell Clark claims Ottawa faced a “conundrum in responding to” Morsi’s ouster since “the Harper government [is] normally critical of any military takeover”.

Did anybody bother to check if this was true? If anybody had, it would have quickly become obvious that Clark’s claim has no basis in fact. The Harper government has backed military coups, opposed pro-democracy movements and deepened ties to monarchies from Morocco to Saudi Arabia.

The Conservatives stuck with the military-backed Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak until literally the last possible minute of his 29-year reign. After 18 days of popular protest and about three hours before Mubarak’s resignation was announced publicly on February 11, 2011, Stephen Harper told a Newfoundland audience: “Our strong recommendations to those in power would be to lead change. To be part of it and to make a bright future happen for the people of Egypt.” Unlike many allied countries, the PM failed to call for Mubarak’s immediate departure.

The Harper government took a similar position towards the Tunisian pro-democracy protests that erupted weeks before Mubarak’s downfall. Harper stuck with the 23-year dictatorship of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to the bitter end despite protests by Tunisian Canadians and various international organizations.

According to internal documents acquired by Postmedia, two weeks into mounting popular protests, on December 30, 2010, Freedom House asked Foreign Affairs to make a statement on the “ever-worsening situation” in Tunisia. The Conservatives stalled, waiting for the US/European reaction to Ben Ali’s repression. “Given that like-minded (allies) have not issued statements and the time lag since events, we do not see a strong rationale to issue something now,” one internal email explained. Twenty-six days after the protests began, on January 12, Foreign Affairs finally released a somewhat tepid statement criticizing Ben Ali’s worst excesses. And, after Ben Ali stepped down on January 14, Ottawa immediately endorsed his political party’s bid to maintain control through a dubious transition plan.

On June 22 of last year the left-leaning president of Paraguay, Fernando Lugo, was ousted in what some called an “institutional coup”. Upset with Lugo for disrupting 61 years of one-party rule, Paraguay’s ruling class claimed he was responsible for a murky incident that left 17 peasants and police dead and the senate voted to impeach the president. The vast majority of countries in the hemisphere refused to recognize the new government. The Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) suspended Paraguay’s membership after Lugo’s ouster, as did the MERCOSUR trading bloc.  But Canada was one of only a handful of countries in the world that immediately recognized the new government.

Paraguay was not the first Latin American country where the Conservatives played the role of Ugly Canadians. In 2009 the Harper government tacitly supported the Honduran military’s removal of elected president Manuel Zelaya.

While the coup government shut down numerous media outlets, imposed a curfew and killed demonstrators, Minister of State for Latin America, Peter Kent, continued to highlight Zelaya’s alleged transgressions. The Conservatives also refused to suspend its small training program with the Honduran military and Canada was the only major donor to Honduras — the largest recipient of Canadian assistance in Central America — that failed to sever any aid to the military government. The World Bank, European Union and even the US suspended some of their planned assistance to Honduras after the coup.

Politicians often tout their support for democracy but the mere fact of proclaiming something doesn’t make it so. Serious journalists look beyond the government’s claims and investigate their actions, before deciding what is true.

Yves Engler is co-author of the recently released New Commune-ist Manifesto — Workers of the World It Really is Time to Unite, a rewriting of the original designed to spark debate about a new direction for the Left and union movement. For more information go to www.newcommuneist.com. Read other articles by Yves, or visit Yves's website.