The board of a Canadian student newspaper has resigned after causing an uproar by removing a pro-Palestinian article from their website.
The Sheaf, the University of University of Saskatchewan student newspaper, spiked the article about the perspective of a Palestinian family in Canada after a complaint from a pro-Israel lobby group.
The photo essay, which also included commentary about the Zionist takeover of Palestine, prompted Honest Reporting Canada to send a letter to the University of Saskatchewan president and its chancellor, claiming the piece perpetuated “vicious and hateful lies.”
“Most fundamentally, this article denies the right of self determination to the Jewish People in their historic homeland, a right that all peoples – including the Palestinians – have, but Naseer (the article author) seems fit to deny only to Jews,” the letter said.
In a statement on June 11 the board of directors for The Sheaf said: “On June 2, 2021 a story was published on the Sheaf’s website pertaining to the ongoing situation in the Middle East between Israel and Palestine on the Gaza Strip. The story published contained pictures from across the world and quotes from a Palestinian family in Saskatoon sharing how they viewed the ongoing situation.
“It is the opinion of the Sheaf’s board of directors that the story did not meet the journalistic standards set out in the Sheaf‘s mandate. The Sheaf prides itself on delivering accurate and balanced news and entertainment reporting…
“The story ‘The Reality of Palestine’ did not fulfill this mandate and because of this, the board has agreed to remove the story from the website with a three to two majority vote from the board members.”
However, shortly afterwards over 50 ex Sheaf writers condemned the decision to remove the article in an open letter.
They said: “The board claims to have taken down the article because it ‘did not meet the journalistic standards set out in The Sheaf’s mandate,’ but the letter does not explain how the article falls short of these standards.
“Removing published content is itself out of line with standard journalistic practice in all but the most extreme cases of libel or fabrication. There are other steps publications might take if an article has engendered a strong reaction, such as soliciting opposing viewpoints or appending an editor’s note. None of these steps were taken in this case.
“Furthermore, in the extreme case in which the decision to remove or disavow a story is made, it should be made by the editorial staff of that publication. Any decision regarding the publication or removal of an article lies with the editorial staff of The Sheaf alone. The board of directors is a separate body, primarily responsible for financial decisions, and should have no role in the paper’s editorial decisions…
“Editorial independence is one of the fundamental pillars of the profession, and it is one of its most essential privileges. The Sheaf is one of Canada’s oldest student newspapers, and has served as a training ground for journalists who have gone on to distinguished careers across the country. Censoring the staff of The Sheaf is a deeply troubling action from a board populated with working journalists. The board’s principal task should be guiding and supporting the work of these emerging professionals and this decision damages the staff’s editorial control, their perception of the role of journalism and the integrity of the paper.
“We stand in solidarity with The Sheaf editorial staff and are opposed to this censorship from the paper’s board. Journalism exists to gather evidence and share the truth with the public. Sometimes this involves saying things that make people uneasy; indeed, ‘afflicting the comfortable’ is a principle that we learned to value during our time at The Sheaf. This is all the more reason for editorial independence free of oversight or interference.”
Subsequently The Sheaf copy editor Hannah Tran said she attended a meeting on Monday night and was informed that all five board members resigned and the paper is now looking for a replacement board. The former board chair declined to comment.