Berkeley Daily Planet’s free speech battle goes national

Since March of this year, The Berkeley Daily Planet (BDP) has been struggling against a campaign by three long-time critics to scare away advertisers and shut the paper down, based on accusations that its publication of letters to the editor and op-eds critical of Israel constitute an anti-semitic bias.

On November 27th, the local controversy came to national attention when the New York Times published an article in its Business Section – “In a Home to Free Speech, a Paper is Accused of Anti-Semitism”

Jim Sinkinson, who has led the campaign against the BDP, is quoted as saying: “We think that [publisher Becky O’Malley] is addicted to anti-Israel expression…If she wants to serve and please the East Bay Jewish community, she would be safe avoiding the subject entirely.” Ms. O’Malley denies any personal or editorial bias, and says “I think that is unusual to say the least that anybody would think that they could dictate a whole area of the world that is simply off limits for discussion….” She points out that the Planet has always had an open-forum policy of printing all letters from local readers that are not obscene or defamatory.

Not covered in the New York Times article was the community response to the censorship campaign. Although many advertisers have been frightened away, readers have spoken out to protect free speech in their town and to keep the BDP alive. Scores of people have weighed in with supportive letters to the editor, and many Jewish residents signed petitions letting it be known that Mr. Sinkinson and his two allies in no way speak for the Jewish community. In addition, a coalition of local peace and justice groups — including Jewish Voice for Peace-Bay Area — took out a series of ads to expose the facts of Palestinian life under Occupation, to support the BDP free-speech policy, and to provide desperately needed advertising revenue to the paper.

www.berkeleydailyplanet.com/pdfs/07-02-09.pdf: See Jewish Voice for Peace ad in page 14
www.berkeleydailyplanet.com/pdfs/07-09-09.pdf: See statement of Jews who support the Daily Planet in page 28
www.berkeleydailyplanet.com/pdfs/07-30-09.pdf: See Bay Area Friends of Sabeel ad in page 28

Now, in immediate response to publication of the New York Times article, people from around the country have been moved to write to the BDP. Of some 20 letters to the BDP editor generated by the article, all but two supported the Planet and deplored the cynical use of charges of anti-semitism as a censorship tactic.

Notwithstanding reader support, BDP advertising revenue has been drastically reduced as a result of the campaign against it, together with the impact of the economic recession. To support the BDP’s commitment to free speech, you can write to the editor using this email: opinion at berkeleydailyplanet.com. Consider also contributing to the paper’s Fund for Local Reporting.

– Carol Sanders

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