Friday, September 03, 2010

Free Speech?

I don't like being played with.

I especially don't like being manipulated by fear mongering and hyperbole complete with bold font and exclamation points.

And I especially especially don't like it when the manipulator has no business sticking their nose into my business!

What this is about is something that fell into my email inbox this morning:
Subject: Canada: stop "Fox News North"

Prime Minister Harper is pressuring the Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission to approve plans for a 'Fox News North'. If successful, this would bring American-style hate media to Canadian airwaves, and be funded by our license fees!

I've just signed a petition to the CRTC urging them to stand strong and resist the PM's calls for a conservative propaganda news network. Please join me in signing:

I already know that this refers to Sun TV News, a proposed channel to be run by Kory Teneycke, a former aide to Prime Minister Harper, which would present a more conservative viewpoint than that presented by the CBC, our public network.

But "American style hate media"? "Conservative propaganda news network"?
This kind of overkill makes me nervous, so I follow the link, whereupon I find:
Prime Minister Harper is trying to push American-style hate media onto our airwaves, and make us all pay for it. His plan is to create a "Fox News North" to mimic the kind of hate-filled propaganda with which Fox News has poisoned U.S. politics. The channel will be run by Harper’s former top aide and will be funded with money from our cable TV fees!

I already have a few problems with this, and the hysterical tone is just the beginning.

Doesn't this make it sound as if the actual channel will be actually run by the actual US Fox News?

It won't.. it's owned by Sun Media, the Newspaper arm of Quebecor, a company that trades publicly on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

Fox News has poisoned US politics?

I think that gives them way too much credit. US politics is poisoned all right but hardly by one channel that is only accessible by cable. I think talk radio had a bigger hand in influencing the public; also town meetings, word of mouth, emails, newspapers and anything else you can think of. Yes some of the hosts of the most vile talk radio shows also have a home on Fox News but everything that station does is under microscopic scrutiny from the left and is rebutted to death as it should be.

Hate media?

How do they know what the station will be like? If indeed it does broadcast "hate media" then there is a legal process to follow. Shutting it down before it begins sounds more like censorship to me.

Funded by taxpayer money?

Not so far as I can tell. Certainly not in the same way as the CBC is funded by taxpayer money. Many taxpayers don't agree with the orientation of the CBC but nobody is trying to save their delicate sensibilities.

Finally, Harper is trying to push it?

Perhaps he'd like to but it's out of his hands. If he is exerting inappropriate influence over the CRTC then that's what laws and reporters are for. Does anyone think the media will give this a pass when they've been all over prorogation, the G20 protests, the census debacle and most recently the long gun registry debate?

It continues,
One man stands in the way of this nightmare -- the Chairman of Canada's Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission Konrad von Finckenstein. And now, Harper is trying to get him out of his job. Sign the petition below to send a wave of support to von Finckenstein and forward this campaign to everyone -- we'll publish full page ads in Canadian papers when we reach 100,000:

To CRTC Chair von Finckenstein and PM Harper:
As concerned Canadians who deeply oppose American-style hate media on our airwaves, we applaud the CRTC's refusal to allow a new "Fox News North" channel to be funded from our cable fees. We urge Mr. von Finckenstein to stay in his job and continue to stand up for Canada's democratic traditions, and call on Prime Minister Harper to immediately stop all pressure on the CRTC on this matter.
So what exactly am I supposed to be signing?

A petition to stop the Sun TV News Channel from ever existing?
That would infringe upon freedom of speech.

A petition to allow it to exist but not be funded by taxpayers? I'm not convinced that it would be, and where does that leave the CBC, anyway?

A petition to protest perceived inappropriate influence by the Prime Minister? Even Ricken Patel, the Executive Director of the group behind this petition, had to admit to Evan Solomon on CBC TV that there was no proof of this.

The petition's wording is very unclear. What is clear is that I'm supposed to be very afraid. Words like "hate", "propaganda" and of course the ! tell me that.

All of which makes me wonder who the heck is behind this. claims to be
...a new global online advocacy community that brings people-powered politics to global decision-making...

Avaaz—meaning "voice" in several European, Middle Eastern and Asian languages—was launched in January 2007 with a simple democratic mission: organize citizens everywhere to help close the gap between the world we have and the world most people want... was co-founded by Res Publica, a global civic advocacy group, and, an online community that has pioneered internet advocacy in the United States.
Their website claims activism in the following arenas, among others:
  • save the oceans
  • protection for elephants
  • save the Brazilian rainforests
  • Haitian earthquake relief
  • Lots of stuff on climate change
  • Human rights in Uganda, Zimbabwe, and the US (torture, y'know).
  • And of course Middle East peace. 
In this context, how does the prospect of an alternative Canadian news channel even fall under their radar?
And yes I say "they" because this group is not Canadian. It may have a Canadian-born cofounder and Canadian members but its mailing address is in New York and its funding comes from sources outside of Canada.

So a non-Canadian organization whose name means "voice" wants to save our fragile Canadian ears from hearing the voices of those with opinions this organization doesn't like?

For some reason they want to scare Canadians into wanting to censor an alternative viewpoint. A viewpoint that I personally don't agree with but that is the magic of free speech.

And a little more context here: recently Canadian cable channels began carrying the English version of Al Jazeera. I do not remember seeing any petitions protesting this assault on what we are supposed to think. If Canadians are to be protected from speech that might be offensive to some, then we need to be protected from all speech. 

Nobody will be forced to watch "Fox News North". Nobody will be forced to behave like Tea Party Activists in the US. The biggest danger to democracy is not "propaganda", but censorship. Stick that in your Res Publica, Ricken Patel.


Robert Patterson said...

I agree with much of what you've said here, but I wonder about the limits you place on non-Canadians to influence or participate in the life of Canadian citizens and corporations.

What seems to rankle you here--among other things--is the fact that the activism comes from international sources. Would their comment without activism bother you so much? I wonder.

I also wonder if you’re willing to limit your own comment and activism on events outside Canada. And how narrow should your range be? Should you be faulted for commenting on events outside your province? Outside your town? Your neighborhood? Home?

On the matter of censorship, I wonder about that, too. You are certainly free to tell me to shut up (and you may have already), and that might be seen as censorship, but not as a prohibited form of censorship. In the U.S., the sort of censorship that is prohibited is that between governments and we the people. (Parenthetically, even that right is limited: to incite panic in a crowd, to spew fighting words, to libel or slander—these are not forms of protected speech.) Individuals and corporations attempt to limit the speech of others every day. That’s often the point of a boycott, for instance.

With these ideas in mind, I have to accept that international groups have every right to their speech, every right to comment and to act (in a lawful manner) outside their narrow national or parochial boundaries.

Whether the viewpoint put forth by Avaaz is correct is an entirely different matter.

Anonymous said...

I'm all for the Avaaz action, as well as an active boycott of Quebecor, QMI agency, the Sun chain etc.

What you've described above is a perfect example of progressive complacency, something that all Cons are hoping we'll possess as they marginalize anyone but a religious wingnut.

Paulineee said...

To Anonymous: Maybe I have a more optimistic view, that politics needn't be so polarized. As a liberal I am willing to entertain other opinions and maybe even learn from them. Liberals don't have to play into the "Cons'" hands and marginalize themselves by boycotts and hysteria.

To Bob: I had to sleep on your comments.

Something did indeed *rankle* but it wasn't so much that the source of the activism came from outside Canada. It was that it came from outside Canada but presented itself as Canadian:

"Prime Minister Harper is trying to push American-style hate media onto our airwaves, and make us all pay for it."

When I read that, I want to know who wrote it and when I find out it's an American-based activist group, I feel manipulated.

The manipulation continued with half-truths throughout.. "Fox News North".. that's a nickname, not a description. Paying for it ourselves? It's a fuzzy issue and from what I gather now, Canadians may support the channel for three years but honestly I'm good with that if I have to support the CBC as well. Just because I happen to agree (mostly) with one and not (mostly) with the other, should be irrelevant.

It's not an issue of who is commenting about what country's goings on, but an issue of honesty in presentation.

When Ricken Patel was interviewed on CBC yesterday he still tried to make it sound as if the group was Canadian because it had Canadian members. My bullshit-o-meter was going nuts.. these people do have an agenda and they expect people (in this particular case, Canadians) to play into their hands.

I don't care what side it comes from, fear-mongering manipulation scares the heck out of me. Heh.

Skinny Dipper said...

If Avaaz is a US-based organization, I guess Amnesty International is UK-based organization that should not be interfering with anything else happening in the world. It should not interfere with Canada's G20 human rights concerns. Also, the United Nations is a US-based organization. The EU is Belgian-based organization. The Warsaw Pact was a Polish-based military agreement.

As for "Fox News North," it is just the nickname for Sun TV News. I know that it won't be controlled by Fox.

I have no problem with Sun TV getting a licence where cable/satellite viewers have the option to subscribe to Sun TV News. Sun TV wants a three-year mandatory access requirement where cable/satellite companies will need to air the news station either on their basic or advanced services. If viewers choose not to subscribe to Sun TV News, we will still be required to pay for its services. Sun TV News expects to receive $4.2 million in subscriptions in the first year of operations. The cable/satellite companies and viewers will have no say in not funding Sun TV News.

Robert Patterson said...

One person's misrepresentation is another person's perception. So much gray out there. Um, I mean grey.

Cari said...

Ricken Patel of Avaaz sent a petition to save the CBC from Harpers hands, Avaaz has been around for awhile an helps other means VOICE, which we have little of when it comes to this government.

Holly Stick said...

Speaking of dishonesty, how about Kory Teneycke's vicious smear of Margaret Atwood, and his instant knowledge of someone committing fraud on the petition? Is that alright with someone who claims to be proressive? Lies and smears?

Paulineee said...

I don't even want to touch the fake names thing. As far as I'm concerned it's a distraction from the larger issue.

As far as Margaret Atwood goes, I'm very disappointed in her. She fell for the manipulation. In the article you (Holly) linked, she is quoted:

“Some people signing the petition object to the expected content. I object to the process,” she told The Globe. “It's the [prime ministerial] pressure on yet another civil servant that bothers me.

Why would she sign a petition in which different people read it as meaning different things? The content and the process are completely separate issues, yet this petition muddies them up, I think deliberately.

Anonymous said...

"Avaaz—meaning "voice" in several European, Middle Eastern and Asian languages—"

It doesn't. Not in a single European language I know (and I know 6). It only means "voice" in Farsi (Persian).

Not that it matters all that much ;-)