De Adder’s termination shows that corporate interests in media are a Canadian problem too

Canadians need to scrutinize potential editorial censorship to maintain the integrity of our press

The cartoon believed to have contributed to Michael de Adder's termination at BNI. Illustration: Michael de Adder/Twitter

By: Gabrielle McLaren, Editor-in-Chief

After 17 years of drawing for Brunswick News Inc. (BNI), Michael de Adder was let go soon after sharing one of his cartoons on his personal social media. The cartoon drew mixed reactions for featuring Donald Trump golfing beside the bodies of two fallen Mexican migrants. 

Or at least that’s the cause for termination that de Adder himself has shared on Twitter and during interviews, citing BNI’s failure to provide a clear alternative reason for his termination. BNI, meanwhile,”vehemently denies” this in a published statement, claiming that they had been taking steps to replace de Adder for weeks. This is something that editorial cartoonist Greg Perry has corroborated, though Perry told CBC News he was never told that he was slotted to replace de Adder specifically. 

BNI’s official statement regarding this paints de Adder’s statements as “a reckless and careless spread of misinformation [ . . . ] in an era of fake news.” (Never mind that de Adder is an individual, not a news or media organization, but I digress).   

BNI owns all of New Brunswick’s English-language daily papers, as well as most weeklies. The company is owned by the Irving family, which is extensively tied to other business interests in the province as well as in the United States. In 2008, a Senate committee on media integrity raised concerns about the Irvings’ monopoly on New Brunswick’s media, noting a resulting pro-Irving (and pro-business) tinge from their reporters. Continuing perceptions that Brunswick News Inc.’s corporate links limit its editorial independence make it especially alarming that de Adder claims he had suspected in the past that his Trump cartoons weren’t well-received by his editors.

De Adder’s national (and now international) reputation and the attention he drew to BNI brings to light the fact that Canada’s media is not as untouchable and pristine as we might expect or like. This might seem insignificant, since de Adder’s termination is now at the “he said, she said” stage. However, I would argue that we should be attentive to the fact that one of the country’s leading and most published cartoonists might so much as be feeling the pressure of editorial censorship. 

As someone who’s been in the belly of the beast, de Adder is in a unique position to speak from within BNI. What he’s telling the rest of us is uncomfortable and worrying.

It might also become easy to ignore this blip in Canadian media because of the strenuous pressure and more blatant attacks faced by journalists elsewhere. The fact that our federal leader isn’t an honourary woodpecker on Fox and Friends like one not-to-be-named Commander-in-Chief is definitely encouraging, but let’s not pretend that Canada’s media is immune to censorship and corporate intrusions. If nothing else, de Adder’s termination draws attention to the complexities and flaws of our media in a time when it’s easy to look at our borderline dystopic Southern neighbours and take the win by default. 

Heading into a federal election, Canadians should be especially concerned with the integrity, strength, and diversity of our media. We should also recognize the importance of our smaller, local media organs that will report on local issues, and be mindful of their own limitations and origins as well.