Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Canada: Say No to Hate Radio, Television in American style

By Richard J. Brennan, Toronto Star, February 7, 2011
MPs Charlie Angus (Timmins James Bay) and Thomas Mulcair (Outremont) suggested Monday that rules for accuracy in broadcast journalism are being weakened because the government wants to accommodate right-leaning Sun TV News or Fox North as it has become known.

“If you change it (the regulation) you could see a very different media landscape. You could have the kind of Fox News in Canada, you could see the hate radio that’s all over the United States,” Angus told a news conference.
Last month, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission — upon direction from a joint Senate-House of Commons regulatory committee — proposed a change to the rules on false or misleading news broadcasts on radio or television. The law currently says a broadcast licensee “shall not broadcast any false or misleading news.”
The change would state that no radio or television network will broadcast any news “the licensee knows is false or misleading and that endangers or is likely to endanger the lives, health or safety of the public.”
CRTC spokesman Denis Carmel emphasized it was the committee that directed the arm’s length commission to make the change. There are only two days left of public consultation.
“Their job is to look at regulations and if they find something that is objectionable from a legal standpoint they have the power to revoke . . . They have been saying that this (existing) regulation is too wide and too vague . . . and had little chance of standing up against the Charter,” he said.
Carmel noted in the more than 20 years the existing standard has been around, no reporter or broadcaster has been found guilty of violating it.
Michael Geist, Canada Research Chair of Internet and e-commerce law at the University of Ottawa, told the Star that “I think you could identify instances where real public harm is caused that would now be permitted under this change.”
First, a little background. In Canada, we have the Canadian Radio and Television Commission, technically, an independent agency at arm's length from government, charged with overseeing the communiations arena, including radio, television and now the internet including cell phones.
The fact that there is some interest, or pressure, from the Prime Minister's office to change the rules, especially in this manner, reflects an ideological bias of Mr. Harper, to which all Canadians would likely object, if they knew about the potential dangers.
The difference between:
  • shall not broadcast any false or misleading news
  • no radio or television network will broadcast any news “the licensee knows is false or misleading and that endangers or is likely to endanger the lives, health or safety of the public.”
is big enough to "drive the proverbial truck" through the chasm.
The Canadian culture, including the news media has survived and served the public quite well for well over a century, under the current rules, (although the CRTC itself has only been around for the last half century, or less). We do not need the kind of invective and slander that we see (hear) in the U.S. in order to "keep up" to the American standard.
In fact, the evidence, for example, of Ruch Limbaugh who regularly calls President Obama a racist and/or a Nazi, with impunity, or the "birthers" who refuse to concede, and use the public airwaves to fan their point of view, that the president was indeed born in Hawaii, making him elegible for the Oval Office.
Political discourse, to be engaging and interesting and provocative does not need the kind of latitude that would flow from this change in the rules.
While the Prime Minister is well known for his literal "hatred" and "contempt" for everything the Liberal Party stands for, and will do anything to wipe the party from the landscape, (sounds like the position of Iran on Israel?), Canadians do not need to accede to his particular political ambition.
As for the academics who teach journalism in Canadian universities who advise waiting until we see (hear) what the results are, we disagree strongly with them. Once the rule is changed, (if it is) it will be much harder to reverse the change to a more moderate, modest and frankly a rule that is much more compatible with Canadian history, tradition and culture.

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