Sep 21/98: Publisher accused of anti-Nisga'a campaign


Victoria Times-Colonist
September 21, 1998, p. A5
Cindy Harnett

[S.I.S.I.S. note: The following mainstream news article may contain biased or distorted information and may be missing pertinent facts and/or context. It is provided for reference only.]

The owner of eight Greater Victoria newspapers and several throughout the island and province is, for the first time in 23 years of publishing, using his power to denounce the Nisga'a deal. Oak Bay's David Black met with newspaper editors in Victoria, the Lower Mainland and the Cariboo last week, with instructions to run editorials against the deal. Black is also supplying papers with eight "backgrounder" columns written by constitutional expert Mel Smith. The author of Our Home or Native Land is against the deal. Black disagrees with suggestions he should not be asserting his power in this way.

"The editorial is the opinion of a newspaper, boss or owner. That duty is often delegated to the editor. But it is clear-cut if the owner wants he can call the shots in the editorial. It's his opinion, the paper's. The buck stops at his desk," he said late Sunday. Black said his papers' news coverage will remain unbiased. All commentary however, must be against the deal. Editors who can't write one editorial against the deal, as a matter of conscience, will have one supplied to them. Black asked editors to phone him if they can't comply. As of Sunday, Black said he hasn't received a call, although the opinion of editors throughout Island Publishers, Cariboo Press and Metrovalley newspaper chains is torn over the mandate.

"I just think it is so wrong and I think it will destroy BC and the natives," said Black. Black called the deal racist and akin to setting up another reserve system. "We know the reserve system doesn't work. We've watched 100 years of misery. With the Nisga'a deal, the reserves are still there. They're a little bigger, they start off a little wealthier. But they'll remain a people apart forever. And they will have special rights other Canadians will detest." Black said the deal works out to $100,000 a person. He would rather give First Nations people the money than to see the deal signed. "Give it to them. I'm not saying reduce the amount of money we are paying. Give it to them as individuals... Whatever you do put it into their hands. Give them 10 acres, a piece of their own land, not communal land," he said.

"I'm not an expert on the agreement, I just know it's wrong," he said. BC Premier Glen Clark challenged Black to ensure that he allows the government to have equal space in his newspapers. Black said he found the government's ads on the deal "repugnant" and "fallacious". Black owns more than 80 community newspapers in BC, Alberta, and Washington state. He also owns the Red Deer Advocate. At a news conference Sunday afternoon in Vancouver, Nelson Leeson, executive chairman of the Nisga'a tribal council, blasted the publisher for his "biased" approach. Robert Hackett, a communications professor at Simon Fraser University and co director of Newswatch Canada, said Black's directive was unprecedented.

"Owners have always been able to to exert their influence indirectly, but they've usually been a good deal more subtle about it than that," Hackett said. The Nisga'a are in the second round of community consultations on the treaty. Band members will vote on the deal, which gives them 2,000 square kilometres of land in the Nass valley in northern BC and $190 million in cash. The Nisga'a will be given self-government powers, as well as resource rights. In return, the band will give up its tax exempt status and future land claims.


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