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Saturday, February 26, 2011

True North Not Really Strong and Free

On Feb. 25, 2011,  in a widely predicted outcome, the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunication Commission (CRTC and yes, that's its full name) abandoned efforts to conform to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It decided to agree with its many recent petitioners, and effectively ban "Fox-News-like" programming  in Canada.
     The CRTC is the body that hands out broadcasting licences. Among its regulatory discretions is the duty to screen for "the dissemination of false news," and to prevent that from happening. In essence, the CRTC is a Truth and Licencing Squad, a bit like Britain's Lord Chamberlain.
     The prohibition on "spreading false news" had been debated in the Ernst Zundel case ten years earlier, the case of an avowed Nazi sympathiser whose propaganda aimed at denying or underplaying the Nazi genocide of the Jews. In that case, the courts, in weighing the merits of the prosecution, had found the existing prohibition on "false news" violated Zundel's rights under the Charter of Freedoms. Soon afterwards, the CRTC was asked to review its own "false news" regulations in that light.
    And the rest is history. Ten years of stalling and milling around ensued, and nothing was reviewed -- perhaps, because the CRTC loves the idea of being able to ban spreaders of what it considers "false news."
    Finally, the authorities pressed the matter and demanded the review take place. There ensued a political campaign emanating from Canada's press and media establishment.Central to the theme of that campaign was that adhering to the Charter would allow a TV network such as Fox News to operate in Canada.
   According to these advocates, Fox "makes up news," flagrant lies that good and liberal people know are falsehoods and propaganda. The college-educated know this but not the unwashed masses. Also, Fox is the only one that does this, and the right-wing is the only source of false news. Since there had been an application to found a TV network in Canada with funds from the Fox ownership, it followed that a False News TV station would be set up.
    On Feb. 25, news came that this campaign had worked. Although it acknowledged that it had had a duty to review its regulation, the regulator announced that it was right and proper that it simply carry on business as before.
Our position is based upon libertarian priciples, and here are its main points:

  • Charter Rights are the basis of our constitution. They frame our laws and regulations, for both citizens and corporations. They are not to be trumped by political fashions or pressure campaigns.
  • The world of broadcasting is a marketplace of ideas. Right-wing, centrist, left-wing, they all have a right to be here, freely expresed and disseminated.
  • The existing Criminal Code bans expression that puts people, or groups of people, at physical risk.
  • The Criminal Code bans expression that libels or slanders persons or corporations. Other parts of the law guarantee the right to sue for damages.
  • In America, which is alleged to groan under the tyranny of Fox, people have the right to found and operate left-wing alternatives to Fox News. In fact, they already have such alternatives. 
  • There is no existing campaign to prohibit the dissemination of "falsely left-leaning news."
  • Canadians already have a left- and centre-left press establishment. There are right-wing outlets, but they are a distinct minority. Therefore, a Fox North, as it's been called, is not going to be a massive monopoly on news.
What do I think? I confess to loathing much of Fox's broadcasting. Glenn Beck is a pompous ass who claims to know much about topics and really just skims the surface. There are other speakers on Fox who similarly disturb reasonable folk -- of all stripes. Such figures rant, sneer, and inflect the news and attempt to inflame public opinion.
    As unsavory as they often are, they are a media genre in a culture that is rapidly mixing genres, with the blessing of the artistic Left. They have a legitimate place in the media landscape of any free country. They are not mouthpieces for totalitarian regimes; they are not involved in attempts upon human life and property. They are private firms. Where they violate Criminal-Code provisions, they are liable to prosecution. Where people hate their world-view, people can simply turn the TV to another channel.
    To stand back from the passion: there is no discerning "true" from "false" without two fundamental freedoms: the freedom to publish; and the freedom to read, research, and listen. Ironically, though, many Canadians opinion-makers are mired in confusion around "truth," educated in the post-modern mindset. That outlook denies that there are objective criteria  for "the truth." Yet it is precisely this group that is banning their own definition of "falsehood"! How does this irony work?
     Simple: this post-mod prejudice openly posits a "will to power," where Your Truth is to be imposed on people, not accredited through honest debate and rigorous research. For that reason alone, this campaign against "false news" is crass and partisan hypocrisy 
     The real need in this country, then, is for a media- and politics-literate population that isn't emotionally handcuffed by the fear of debate, and shackled to prejudices carefully honed in left-wing classrooms. What Canada needs is the appetite for risk and the demand for freedom. It does not need a lobby for pohibiting the right-wing, and a CRTC regulator willing to do precisely that.

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