Conservative columnist and broadcaster Michael Coren has defended his criticism of UNICEF before an October 17 meeting of the Ontario Press Council.
Coren, host of a CFRB radio talk show program, exposed UNICEF in a column written for The Financial Post/Toronto Sun newspapers in November, 1995. The column linked UNICEF to support for abortion and contraception in Third World countries, and criticized the appointment of abortion advocate Stephen Lewis as UNISEF deputy executive director.
“According to informed critics, UNICEF, which receives more than $20 million from Canada, is not only a seriously flawed organization but is also dishonest,” Coren wrote in the column. “The argument rests on the accusation that UNICEF supports (and perhaps funds) abortion and sterilization in underprivileged countries.”
The Coren column also referred to the pamphlet UNICEF, Guilty as Charged By Campaign Life Coalition contributor Winifride Prestwich. The pamphlet raises questions of accountability for the international organization.
Coren’s column made reference to United Nations involvement in a secret sterilization campaign against women in the Philippines.
Harry Black, executive director of UNICEF Canada, sought a retraction from the Toronto Sun and later issued a formal complaint to the Ontario press Council, of which the Sun is a member.
The council has the power to censure reporters deemed to have breached journalistic ethics.
Mr. Black attended the press council hearing with UNICEF Canada official Jacquline Bradshaw.
He denied UNICEF involvement with Third World contraception programs and described the Coren column as inaccurate and unfair. “I would hope that fairness and honesty apply to opinion writers,” Mr. Black said. He also said the column was damaging to UNICEF in its annual Halloween fund-raising effort.
In defending the column, Coren praised much of the work of UNICEF in providing food and clothing to Third World children.
Coren said that while the organization may have a policy against active abortion/contraception programs, it offers tacit support of the practice in the field. He also cited at least one case of UNICEF providing funding for “surgical contraceptive services” in Malawi. Coren rejected claims that officials such as Stephen Lewis would have difficulty imposing their pro-abortion views on the organization.
Black countered that UNICEF cannot control the actions of field workers throughout the Third World, some of whom may promote abortion services.
Black also said he is personally opposed to abortion and would seriously consider resigning his position with UNICEF Canada if he believed the organization promoted abortion and sterilization throughout the Third World.
When asked if he felt bound to protect UNICEF’s reputation when preparing a critical opinion column, Coren said he feels a higher responsibility to unborn children. “I’m motivated more by the view that the pro-life voice is not expressed in unborn children when writing such a column.”
The Ontario Press Council, which represents 128 member newspapers across the province, had not issued a decision in the Coren case as The Interim went to press.
The results of an official complaint, whether upheld or dismissed, must be published by the member newspaper in question.