I’m not sure exactly how I discovered this; as with many items of news in Canada, I’m often not aware of things until the very last minute. (Okay, and in this case I’m only able to publish this post with 90 minutes before the comment period runs out: but I did get in one comment last night.) I thought my sense of communication was bad in the States, when I lived in Arkansas: but at least it was pretty easy to stay on top of things that were happening in the government. Our local NPR station (KUAR) was great at keeping us informed. Yet it seems that many Canadians take it for granted that “accurate news” should be on their doorstop… even when it’s not. The Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) moved a month ago to cut back the rules regarding truth in the news… and I only heard about it today. I’m thus right at the end of the “public comment” period, if I’ve not missed it entirely. (There actually appear to be two “different” but substantially similar issues, with different dates for comment.)
Anyone who reads my posts will know that I’m a bit of a stickler for the truth. It’s not enough that you’ve “heard something” from a friend or a cousin or your ex-wife’s sister’s husband: I want to find the real truth before I write a post on something (or forward an email). This means I’m often late in commenting, if only because checking takes time and I have a real job. So be it: that’s my price for ethics. I always have references illustrating where I got some information: and if something just happens to go along with my view of the world, I tend to check it out even more thoroughly.
Growing up in Canada, those are the standards I was raised with. To hear that we are dismantling those rules is not just irritating: it’s frightening. I moved back to Canada from the U.S. precisely to get away from this kind of thing. I don’t like news that doubles as entertainment, and that motivates false ideals. Part of the whole core foundation of the marketplace and capitalism is the truth: if that is removed, we have no valid process for the comparison of ideas and values. I don’t think that freedom of expression should trump the truth.
Apparently this started in the 1990s: with regard to Ernst Zündel, a famous holocaust denier who had moved from Germany to Canada and who published thousands of documents “explaining” that the murder of six million Jews in the War had never really happened. He had been charged with publishing “false news” and was eventually acquitted: the Supreme Court “declar[ed] on August 27, 1992, that the archaic ‘false news’ law under which he had been convicted was a violation of the country’s Charter of Rights” (The Zundelsite: don’t visit if you have a weak stomach). On the one hand I think this was a shallow decision: but on the other I will acknowledge that he believed it is true. Zündel might be incredibly gullible and stupid with regard to whom he trusts, but those are not indictable offenses. If someone believes something is true they have every right to print it.
But it would seem that the CRTC still thinks in terms of suchl “archaic” structures. Right now, the commission states that they prohibit the broadcast of “any false or misleading news”. That has been suggested to be changed to prohibiting “any news that the licensee knows is false or misleading and that endangers or is likely to endanger the lives, health or safety of the public” (italics mine). So not only does the news agency not have to check out a news story(why check out a “convenient” story if it might turn out to be false?) but even if they knew it was patently false, if it is not “dangerous” then it is permissible. This would seem to deny the function of news and blur the perception of reality.
Now personally: I do my own research most of the time and find out about “false news” fairly quickly. That assumes, however, that other sources are accurate. And that’s where this becomes slippery. Arguments can be made that even if the bulk of sources are saying the same thing, they could all still be “false”. That worries me, because it reduces my grounds of proof. Of course my experience might tell me that the Globe and Mail or CBC are usually accurate and truthful: but others are just as convinced (no, really: they are) that Fox News is accurate and unbiased. (You can’t tell, but my fingers cramped while I was typing that and I almost couldn’t finish.)
Apparently the CRTC even disagrees with this stand on quasi-truth (TheWireReport.ca: Feb 15 2011) but they are being forced to go forward with it by a parliamentary committee.
I suppose I find it most ironic that those who are most often clamouring for “solid values” and “religious truth” (such as our current Conservative government) are the ones who are now trying to dilute any truth in the news. They’re not trying to “expand perceptions”; they’re trying to dilute the representation of the truth.
To be heard directly by the CRTC, leave a comment on the issue. (The comment area was not easy to find, so is at the above link.) Comments close on midnight of February 16th. (I know, that leaves 77 minutes as of this publication. The Gather website was down last night when I tried to publish this.)