Allegations of censorship under corporate pressure have erupted after the Vancouver Province newspaper pulled an animated cartoon spoofing an Enbridge Inc. promotional TV ad from its web site.
Dan Murphy, the paper's political cartoonist, told CBC News the Province yanked his cartoon after the Calgary-based pipeline company threatened to withdraw its lucrative advertising.
The flap centres on a parody of a 30-second Enbridge commercial promoting the benefits of its controversial Northern Gateway project that would pipe crude from Alberta's oil sands across British Columbia to an export terminal near Kitimat.
Opponents want the project, which has the backing of the federal Conservative government, quashed because of the potential damage a pipeline rupture might have on the pristine environment.
Murphy's take on the Enbridge "Path to Prosperity" ad shows its images of jumping salmon, grazing bears and skipping children hit with ever-bigger gooey blots of oil that the ad's creator tries vainly to remove with a squeegee.
Murphy told CBC News that Province publisher Postmedia News ordered the online animation pulled Friday after hearing from Enbridge. He was informed by Province editor Wayne Moriarty, he said.
" 'If it doesn't come down, Enbridge says they're pulling a million dollars worth of advertising from Postmedia, and if it doesn't come down, I, Wayne Moriarty, I'm going to lose my job,' " Murphy said Moriarity told him.
Clicking on the original Province link to the animation produces a "page not found" message.
But of course, this being the Internet, it was too late. The video had gone viral, quickly reposted by other web sites such as Rabble.ca.
Moriarty told CBC News the item was removed over copyright issues.
B.C. political blogger Laila Yuile says a former Postmedia editor emailed her claiming company CEO Paul Godfrey issued the order to ditch Murphy's animation.
An Enbridge spokesman told CBC News that a conversation took place with Postmedia, which apparently produced an apology for the animation, but would not divulge details. The company said in a statement to CBC that it did not threaten to pull its ads or demand Murphy's piece be taken down.
Murphy, who's worked at the Province for 25 years, said speaking out was the toughest decision of his career.
"I could lose my job over this," said Murphy, who appeared on CBC Radio Vancouver's On the Coast. "The company could interpret this as being disloyal. I would argue that it is the opposite."
The paper's decision triggered a Twitter backlash, and lots of retweets spreading his lampoon.
"I look forward to hearing you speak out against this act of censorship," Mark Donoghue tweeted to right-wing commentator Ezra Levant, who wrote a pro-oil sands book entitled Ethical Oil in 2010 but was also hauled before the Alberta Human Rights Commission for publishing controversial cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad.
Rafe Mair, a former open-line radio host and B.C. environment minister, said on his Common Sense Canadian blog the incident illustrated his view Postmedia practises self-censorship when it comes to issues that pit the environment against economic development.
"... (D)oesn't this demonstrate, beyond any doubt, why the Postmedia papers, especially the Sun and Province, have flooded their op-ed pages with industry propaganda and have avoided like the plague anything critical of this government in the environmental field?" Rafe contended.