Ukrainian Canadian Congress flexes muscles over CBS program
by Andrij Kudla Wynnyckyj
Toronto Press Bureau
TORONTO - After the Ukrainian Canadian community flexed its muscles, an Edmonton TV station decided to delay airing "Canada's Dark Secret," the CBS "60 Minutes" program concerning the presence of alleged Nazi war criminals in the country.
According to a February 6 report in the Toronto Star daily, Alan Brooks, news and programming manager at CFRN, a Baton Broadcasting Systems affiliate, chose not to air the segment in its usual Sunday evening time slot, initially intending to shelve it entirely.
The Weekly has learned that on January 27 officials at the Ukrainian Canadian Congress's Toronto Branch faxed to UCC national headquarters in Winnipeg press reports anticipating the airing of the CBS program on Sunday, February 2, in the U.S. and Canada.
On January 31 UCC President Oleh Romaniw sent a letter, since obtained by The Weekly, to the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission, the federal regulatory body, asking to preview the segment.
Mr. Romaniw mentioned the invidious precedent set by the CBS "60 Minutes" program "The Ugly Face of Freedom," broadcast on October 23, 1994. The UCC president wrote that "this segment caused widespread outrage throughout Ukrainian communities in North America and elsewhere."
"It was likewise criticized," Mr. Romaniw continued, "by serious spokespersons of Jewish communities and the government of Ukraine."
Mr. Romaniw also expressed concern that the program would "misrepresent the Canadian government's measures in regard to alleged war criminals in Canada, as well as the numbers and nationalities of these persons."
In order to head off the possibility of "distrust and rift[s] among ethnic communities in Canada," Mr. Romaniw requested that prior to broadcasting "Canada's Dark Secret" the segment be "previewed by representatives of the Canadian Ukrainian, Jewish and other East European communities, and unanimously approved in order to prevent misrepresentations of the issue to the Canadian public."
The Winnipeg-based lawyer concluded by expressing the UCC's conviction that such a measure would "ensure that ethnic hatred and irresponsible journalism with unpredictable harmful consequences to the fabric of Canadian society are not freely disseminated through [Canadian] media."
For background, it should be noted that following intense pressure from the Ukrainian Canadian community over the airing of "The Ugly Face" segment, the Edmonton based CFRN-TV station broadcast an apology to the Ukrainian Canadian community almost exactly a year later, on October 22, 1995.
The CanWest Global network, which owns Canadian broadcast rights to the "60 Minutes" program, also broadcast an apology to the Ukrainian Canadian community on its flagship channel in Toronto in November 1996.
When February 2 rolled around, television viewers in the Edmonton area did not see the "Canada's Dark Secret" segment, and that week's installment of "60 Minutes" was supplanted by an earlier feed of the same program.
According to a statement issued on February 5 by CFRN executive Alan Mabee "very serious and specific allegations made in the program" had caused the station to shelve "Canada's Dark Secret."
Mr. Mabee added that "senior management and legal counsel were unavailable for consultation late Sunday afternoon [February 2] when CFRN personnel first had viewing access to the program, and accordingly a decision [was] made to delay the broadcast."
On February 5, a few days after "Canada's Dark Secret" was blacked out in the Edmonton area, Richard Helm, television critic for the local Journal daily, blasted CFRN for "censorship" in an article subtitled "Sensitivity to Ukrainian community doesn't justify paternalistic behavior."
Mr. Helm wrote, "It was specifics about Ukrainian war criminals that raised the red flag with [Mr. Brooks]. Edmonton, of course, has a large and influential Ukrainian community - some figures suggest up to 12 percent of the population is of Ukrainian origin."
"CFRN apparently wanted a little more assurance as to the veracity of some of the material," the columnist continued, "second-guessing the estimable fact-checkers at the CBS News division."
In his February 5 article, Mr. Helms quoted only viewers who supported his position, and offered no statements from Ukrainian Canadians, or from those who agreed with CFRN's decision, no matter what their background.
The Star report did mention the UCC's petition to the CRTC and its reasons for filing one. It also quoted Toronto-based Canadian Jewish Congress director Bernie Farber's opinion that "it's mind-boggling that one person could make this decision for the entire viewing audience."
On February 6, CFRN decided to air the "60 Minutes" program that included "Canada's Dark Secret" on the upcoming Saturday evening (February 15) at 9 p.m., not during the program's regular time slot.
In that day's Edmonton Journal, Mr. Helm wrote of commendations offered to CFRN by James Jacuta, past president of the UCC's Alberta Provincial Council, for holding off on the broadcast. "Maybe some people call it censorship," Mr. Jacuta, an Edmonton-based lawyer, was quoted as saying. "The issue is fair and balanced comment and getting the other side of the story out there."
On February 11, the Journal also printed letters from current UCC-PCA President Bud Conway and Special Projects Director of the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association Borys Sydoruk of Calgary.
Mr. Conway pointed out that in the "Ugly Face" segment of October 1994 "Ukrainians were obliquely called 'genetically anti-Semitic'" and that CBS had not apologized or corrected its story "despite many protests, which included Ukraine's chief rabbi."
Mr. Conway also asserted the UCC's belief that "'Canada's Dark Secret' is biased; unfairly painting Canada as the Argentina of the North. Yet Canada adopted a policy towards suspected war criminals based on the report of Justice Deschenes Commission of Inquiry on War Criminals."
The UCC-PCA president pointed to Justice Jules Deschenes' finding that "public statements by outside interveners concerning alleged war criminals in Canada have spread increasingly large and grossly exaggerated figures as to their estimated number."
Mr. Sydoruk wrote that "60 Minutes" had previously "seriously distorted the nature of contemporary society in Ukraine, relying on innuendo, mistranslation and partial accounts to portray Ukraine as a hotbed of anti-Semitism and ethnic hatred."
"CFRN Television in Edmonton has learned its lesson," Mr. Sydoruk concluded, "It was heavily criticized for its airing of 'The Ugly Face of Freedom.' This time it decided to view the program first. For this, CFRN is to be commended."
Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, February 23, 1997, No. 8, Vol. LXV
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