I wrote a post some months ago on a move by the Canadian Radio-Television & Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). It was back in February, and I found out (rather late) that the CRTC was asking for comments on a proposed change. The issue was fairly simple: though that made it no easier to understand from my perspective. They were considering a change in wording to some of their notices which “prohibit false or misleading news”. (CTRC, May 2011). The changed wording was to prohibit “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”. It’s not exactly a small change in the legislation, because it fundamentally turns a law that tries to have a foot in objective reality to one that is completely subjective.
The point, of course, is a complete change in how this kind of charge can be brought against an offender. With the old wording, all you had to do was to prove that something had either happened or it had not. An event was either true or false. Now I’m fairly sure that this has very rarely been brought to court in the Canadian system, but it could: and it gives specific, measurable limits. With the proposed wording, one would have to prove that a person knew it was false… and that they intended to mislead. That’s a very different standard, and much more difficult to “prove”. The only arguments I could find that were in favour of the change said that the old wording was unnecessary, because other methods exist to keep news “true”. So… we’re to actively weaken one law because others exist to that are… similar? But not quite the same. And if we weaken one… what is to stop us from weakening the others? All I can say is that the standard is necessary: just look at the U.S., where false news is protected as “Freedom of Speech”. It’s often so subtly false that people hardly notice… but it gives a foothold for political commentators. Just look at the misinformation distributed about the new Health Care system (which I refuse to call “Obamacare”).
This all happened right around the time that we were considering importing one of the worst ideas from the States, a news channel dubiously referred to as “Fox News North”. We are all aware that the Fox News Channel in the U.S. is less than diligent than it should be in reporting news from an objective point of view. That’s fine for many Americans, who want to have their world view upheld in any way they can; here in Canada we’re a little more concerned about reality and integrity. The change in the above legislation would have made it that much easier for those kinds of ideas to cross the border… ideas that propagate lies.
Worse, in my mind, was that both these issues were supported by our Prime Minister, Stephen Harper. I had never been impressed much by Mr. Harper, and this was one of the reasons. It’s hard to really believe someone is being honest with you when he is advocating for the right to make reality subjective and opinion becoming more important than fact…. when he’s advocating for the right to lie. From some of my impressions of Mr. Harper, he seems to work this way already: and wanted to change legislation to match his modus operandi. Much like George Bush did in the United States, he wants to be able to use the television and radio media to manipulate our perception of the country and the world.
So I didn’t hear about the issue for months. (One of the things we Canadians seem to be particularly bad at is communication. I’ve noticed this in several contexts, and it’s one of the reasons I started this blog.) But the other day (literally: August 14th… and this started in February… I’ve got to update my Google News alerts…) I found out that we won: the wording will not be changed. I was pleased to see that the government asked for our opinions: not only did we respond, but they listened. “The Commission received approximately 350 comments in response to Broadcasting Notice of Consultation 2010-931 and approximately 3,300 comments in response to Broadcasting Notice of Consultation 2011-14. In both cases, the vast majority of the comments addressed the proposed amendment to the false or misleading news provisions.” It is marked as one of the blocks to bringing Fox News to this country. I believe I would have been one of the 3,300 when I did my first post. So I’m happy. At least for the moment, we’ve managed to maintain our borders conceptually against an influx of lies.