27 October 2003

Gazette journalists can withhold bylines
'as they see fit,' Quebec arbitrator rules

A Quebec labour tribunal has restored voice — and a right of protest — stripped from staff at The Gazette in Montreal

Montreal Newspaper Guild | TNG Canada Local 30111

MONTREAL — In a landmark decision, a Quebec labour tribunal has restored voice — and a right of protest — stripped from staff at The Gazette in Montreal by management decree on Dec. 7, 2001, as turmoil peaked over the now largely discredited "national editorial" policy.

TNG Canada.org
Lussier ruling, in PDF format

Reporters, photographers, artists and others at The Gazette — not local management or Winnipeg-based CanWest Global Communications Corp. — have the absolute right to control use of their bylines and credit lines on stories, photos and other works. These journalists "have the right to withhold their byline as they see fit," Arbitrator Jean-Pierre Lussier ruled, to protest Gazette or CanWest Global policies or for any other reasons.

They can exercise this right individually or as a group: "If an employee requests that a byline be withheld, it is withheld. That's all there is to it," the Arbitrator declared. The decision is immediate and has the force of law.

The Gazette violated its obligations to staff under its collective agreement with the Montreal Newspaper Guild when the management tried to quell dissent that flared in early December 2001 against the imposition of "national editorials" by CanWest Global's owners in Winnipeg, the Arbitrator ruled.

The Montreal Guild represents 297 employees at The Gazette, including 159 in the newsroom.

CanWest Global had planned to run identical "national editorials," as often as three times a week, in more than a dozen of Canada's largest newspapers which it acquired with a $3.2-billion takeover of the Southam newspaper empire. The new owners' drive to centralize opinion was condemned by journalists as an unprecedented attempt to reduce the breadth of public debate and serve narrow corporate interests. In protest, dozens of journalists withdrew their bylines from Gazette stories for two successive daily editions in early December 2001.

Peter Stockland, Editor-in-Chief at The Gazette, then ordered all staff in the Montreal Guild's Editorial bargaining unit to restore their bylines immediately.

Contending that Stockland's action was illegal, the Montreal Guild launched an immediate grievance under the Employee Integrity section of the collective agreement.

The Arbitrator has now upheld that grievance in full.

The Guild contract "grants the employee an absolute right" to withdraw bylines and credit lines, the Arbitrator declared in an 18-page, French-language ruling following six days of hearings. Contractual provisions covering bylines have been in effect at The Gazette since 1977. For newspaper stories other than analyses, columns and opinion pieces, The Gazette "has the obligation to respect the journalists' choice where they request to withhold their byline," he wrote, and thus an obligation not to threaten or impose disciplinary actions. The Arbitrator accepted the Guild's argument that "the byline is a reflection of the reporter's personality and
belongs to him as surely as the colour of his eyes and other personal features. It follows that what he does with his name is his business."

"The power, scope and protection offered by our byline clauses has never been so emphatically affirmed by any Arbitrator anywhere," said Arnold Amber, Director of TNG Canada/CWA, which is one of Canada's largest media-industry unions.

This ruling "is a magnificent victory for all who value public debate and respect reasoned dissent in a civilized society," said Jan Ravensbergen, First Vice-President of the Montreal Guild. "We are confident the Arbitrator's ruling effectively shields our members from ownership retribution for protest against CanWest Global policies. This is of particular importance now that the Senate of Canada has launched an in-depth examination of media ownership and control issues."

The mission of The Newspaper Guild-CWA is to ensure "constant honesty in news, editorials, advertising, and business practice" and our constitution obligates officers to "raise the standards of journalism and ethics of the industry."

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