Tory interference prompts resignation of Living Today editor

Julian Wolfe
March 31st, 2013

Some of the Filipino media in British Columbia has been taken by Conservative Party members, introducing the opportunity for interference and influence. This has led one alarmed editor, Yul Baritugo from Living Today to resign after his publisher, Reyfort Media Group CEO Reyfort Fortaleza, joined the fold. Is the integrity of Canadian media at stake?

Here is a brief look at some of the media outlets that are being run by Conservative members.

  • Living Today: Run by Reyfort Fortaleza, published a piece about joining the party and an interview with PM Harper.
  • Philippine Journal: Run by Irene Yatco, ran unsuccessfully against NDP MP Libby Davies in 2011.
  • Planet Philippines: Run by Cholo Insua, who states it doesn’t influence his work.

Baritugo resigned and in an alarmed fashion stated that the integrity of his former publication is at risk due to the publisher’s recent decision to join the Conservative party and publish a piece on the third page in the Publisher’s dedicated section.

Fortaleza wrote the piece: “Why I joined the Conservative Party”. In it he stated:

“On February 9, 2013, I formally joined the ranks of the Conservative Party of Canada. In many ways, it was an affirmation of the core values I hold deeply. Love for family. Dedication to hard work. Personal responsibility. Respect for tradition. Honour of faith…It isn’t surprising that Canadians have voted Conservative for the last three elections, seeing in the party a reflection of the values they hold dear.”

The cover of that issue featured a glossy photo of Harper with the tag line: “Harper: Canada stronger than ever.”

While the profile isn’t new to the magazine, as it has been done for BC politicians Premier Christy Clark and NDP leader Adrian Dix, the way it was handled is different. The other profiles were always assigned to a writer and not the publisher.

Baritugo said he was initially assigned to write the article but Fortaleza took over. The magazine’s creative director Mel Tobias said no writer was assigned on the day the interview was to take place and the Prime Minister’s Office requested Fortaleza be the one to conduct the interview.

“I usually distribute the jobs to different people to get a chance for the front cover, but the office of Mr. Harper requested that Mr. Fortaleza be the one,” Tobias said.

It is no surprise the PMO opted for Fortaleza given the his ties to the Conservative party, signing his membership in the presence of Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney after being rewarded the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal last month.

“When you declare membership with the party, it goes to show that contrary views may no longer appear in that space,” Baritugo said. “It’s different if [Fortaleza] had distanced himself from the professional operation and did not include the entire operation of the company. But he did not.”

Baritugo has always been critical of the Conservative government. In March 2011, he wrote a piece on the Harper Government’s policies, criticizing their plans from prison expansion to immigration policies arguing they would make reunification of Filipino families difficult.

He believes the interview with the publisher was part of a broader Conservative strategy to court the ethnic vote.

“You have to remember ethnic media is fair game only if the Tories believe it can turn out physical votes at game time,” he said.

While Fortaleza refused to comment to the Vancouver Observer on whether his membership would slant the neutral publication, Tobias said that the publisher’s politics would stay out of the publication.

“It was just a coincidence that Mr. Fortaleza signed up, and it so happened that Mr. Harper was on the cover,” Tobias explained. He emphasized that Living Today was a lifestyle magazine, intended to showcase the lives of global Filipinos, and not meant to be political.

However, it is worth refuting Tobias considering the publisher’s piece on joining the Conservative party and his interview with Harper speaks volumes on that point.

Tobias criticized Baritugo’s op-ed of 2011 stating it had “repercussions” on the publication  notably a letter from a reader who happens to be a Conservative supporter. Baritugo defended himself stating he would criticize any government regardless of the party.

“I’m not a card-carrying member of any party,” Baritugo said.

“[Living Today] is publicly positioned as a lifestyle magazine but my columns – the odd man out – had always had either an economic angle, a political slant or bias,” Baritugo said. He stated that the slant of the publisher would change the nature of the magazine.

Canadian media should be unbias and it is alarming to see a partisan takeover of media. It is no surprise the Conservatives would take this kind of approach to outreach considering the millions of taxpayer dollars they spend on airing Action Plan ads, even well after the Action Plan ended and the pre-writ attack ads they aired against Michael Ignatieff and Thomas Mulcair.

What do you think of this report? Are other media sites being partisanly owned at the moment and does that pose an issue to the legitimacy of the news and messaging we receive on a daily basis that serve as being critical to our decision-making process in elections?

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