A-Channel attempts to muzzle free speech

EDMONTON - The Alberta Federation of Labour and the union representing striking A-Channel workers have jointly filed a multi-million dollar lawsuit against A-Channel. The unions claim the station attempted to unfairly muzzle the strikers and stop them from communicating with the public. In particular, they say the station tried to de-rail a union-sponsored ad campaign by sending threatening letters to Edmonton area media outlets that had already agreed to run the ads.

"It's a huge irony," says AFL president Les Steel, whose organization worked with the Communication, Energy Paperworkers Local 1900 to design and launch the ad campaign.

"Here we have a company that's in the business of disseminating news and information to the public. But when it comes to news and information from its own employees, they try to throw the muzzle on. It's the height of hypocrisy."

Local 1900's chairperson Adrian Pearce echoed Steel's indignation over A-Channel's actions, adding the station was essentially attempting to coerce other media outlets into breaking contracts with the strikers - something that is clearly not permitted under Canadian civil law.

"We think it's unethical for a news agency like A-Channel to try to impose censorship and attack the freedom of speech that every group is entitled to under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms," says Pearce. "A supposedly 'impartial' news gathering station should know better."

Shortly before the union's ad campaign was set to begin in the third week of October, various media outlets in the city received threatening letters from Gerhard Seifner, a lawyer with A-Channel's law firm, McLennan Ross. In the letters, Seifner warned that "anybody publishing this (union) material will be sued."

The threat of legal action was taken seriously by all the targeted news organizations - but it was particularly troubling for small, independent publications like Vue Weekly.

Despite the threats, all the radio stations and all but one of the newspapers contracted by the union eventually determined the ads were legally defensible and agreed to proceed with the campaign (but not without demanding unusual guarantees from the union). The only newspaper that reneged on its ad contract with the unions (the Edmonton Journal) eventually reversed its position and agreed to print the ad.

"From our perspective, this is a clear example of libel chill," says Steel. "A-Channel was using the threat of legal action to stop the flow of information to the public. That this was one media company trying to intimidate other media companies just makes the situation that much worse. The managers at A-Channel should be ashamed of themselves."

Copies of the union's statement of claim and A-Channel's letter are available upon request.

For more information call:

Adrian Pearce, Union Chair CEP 1900 @ 428-5270

Les Steel, AFL President @ 483-3021 or 499-4135

Gil McGowan, AFL Communication @ 483-3021 or 910-1137

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