FREE PRESS -- A free weekly newspaper (with a daily website) reporting city news, comment and controversies to the residents of Berkeley is under serious attack and could be shut down for loss of advertising because of charges that its editorial content, including but not limited to published letters, is anti-Israel, anti-semitic or both, reports Jesse McKinley in the New York Times.

For the last six years, The Berkeley Daily Planet has published a
freewheeling assortment of submissions from readers, who offer
sharp-elbowed views on everything from raucous college parties
(generally bad) to the war in Iraq (ditto).


But since March, that running
commentary has been under attack by a small but vociferous group of
critics who accuse the paper’s editor, Becky O’Malley, of publishing
too many letters and other commentary pieces critical of Israel. Those
accusations are the basis of a campaign to drive away the paper’s
advertisers and a Web site that strongly suggests The Planet and its
editor are anti-Semitic.

“We think that Ms. O’Malley is
addicted to anti-Israel expression just as an alcoholic is to
drinking,” Jim Sinkinson, who has led the campaign to discourage
advertisers, wrote in an e-mail message. He is the publisher of Infocom
Group, a media relations company. “If she wants to serve and please the
East Bay Jewish community, she would be safer avoiding the subject
entirely.”

Ms. O’Malley denies any personal or editorial bias,
and bristles at the suggestion that she should not publish letters
about Israel in a city like Berkeley, which has a sizable Jewish
community and a populace — and City Council — that often weigh in on
Middle East and international affairs.
“Frankly, the term that
crossed my mind was ‘protection racket,’ ” Ms. O’Malley said. “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.”

Whether right or wrong, Mr. Sinkinson’s campaign has
left The Planet — a weekly already hammered by the recession — gasping
for breath. Advertising sales revenue is down some 60 percent from last
year, Ms. O’Malley says. In October, the paper trimmed its skeleton
crew of full-time reporters to one from three, and has begun a
fund-raising drive to keep publishing.
Still, she says she has
no intention of stopping the publication of submitted letters, citing a
commitment to free speech that is a legacy of the city where the Free
Speech Movement was born in the 1960s.

“I have the old-fashioned
basic liberal thing of believing that the remedy for speech you don’t
like is more speech,” said Ms. O’Malley, 69, a veteran local journalist
who bought the paper in 2002 as a retirement project with her husband,
Michael, now 72. “If somebody says something you don’t like, say what
you think. And I felt it a privilege here in my middle age to be in a
position to make that happen.”