Freedom is just that Important


Canadian PoliticsTHUNDER BAY – A democratic society functions partly because freedom of speech and freedom of the press are respected. An attack on freedom of speech on one person is an attack on freedom of speech for all. The same is true for media, an attack on one media outlet, is, in my view an attack on all media outlets. The ability of the media to work in a free and democratic society is only as strong as the weakest link in the chain.

Freedom of speech can take many different levels. A press release from PEN Canada issued this week states, “On December 16, 2010, Senator Vivienne Poy wrote Heritage Minister James Moore asking him to disqualify Maclean’s magazine from federal subsidies for publishing a contentious article about Asian-Canadians in universities in Canada.

“Senator Poy asked the federal government to delist the magazine, which receives $1.5 million a year in government funding, because the article in question said some Caucasians avoid universities because they are ‘too Asian’ (the title of the article). Senator Poy called the article ‘offensive’ and ‘unprofessional’ and questioned the value of subsidizing a magazine which practices ‘divisive journalism’.”

PEN Canada is urging the federal government to ignore Senator Poy’s demand that Maclean’s be punished for publishing something she did not like. “To deny the magazine funding on this basis would set a dangerous precedent for further punitive actions, using the lever of financial support from government-controlled funding agencies, against media outlets that express views that officials find objectionable.  PEN Canada believes such actions amount to censorship in a free and democratic society”.

Personally, I do not agree with the premise of the article published by Maclean’s Magazine on this issue. There have been many articles I have read in different publications over the years which I have disagreed with. Some of the articles I have not liked have however made me think, and often come to understand a path to solutions.

One does not have to like what is said by critics or by people with other points of view. However to seek to either deny that right, or to work to restrict that right is a wrong greater than the perceived commentary.

In Canada there is likely to be a debate over a new television network, Sun News. There shouldn’t be any debate at all. Allowing different views and different commentary is a fundamental right in a free society.

If you don’t like those different views, or if you would like to live in a state with a “regulated media”, perhaps you also miss the long gone regimes of the past too? Germany during the Nazi regime enjoyed a “regulated media”. So too did the old Soviet Union. Freedoms were repressed, there was no free media, and people were repressed. Not the kind of life I want for Canada and Canadians. I hope it isn’t the kind of life any freedom loving person would want.

The dual-edged sword in a democracy that embraces freedom of the press, and free speech is that there will be times when a media outlet will publish something that you disagree with. In our society, you as an individual have the choice to ignore the article, or publication. There will be times when someone will say things that you oppose.

There are laws on libel, slander and on hate crimes. Those utterances are not a free speech issues.

There is, however, a price to be paid if you honestly believe in free speech.

It means accepting that groups like the Westboro Baptist Church. This is the group whose members protest at funerals making outrageous and insulting statements, but they too have a right to express their opinions, if you believe in freedom.

It means accepting that not everyone believes or sees things the same way.

The reality, from my point of view is that a democracy must be strong enough to support the right of groups to express their points of view. If one becomes more concerned with controlling freedoms in order to protect freedoms, then those freedoms are in danger already.

Freedom of speech is countered, perhaps by freedom to listen.

If a person is saying things that you do not like you are not forced to listen. In the media, if the news outlet continually offers information that you believe is slanted in a way you don’t like, you are free to “change the channel”, or online choose other options.

The problem would be if the government were to intervene and decide to defund Maclean’s magazine if they sometimes publish things that might offend the government, cutting funding would have the effect of trying to shut down that critical commentary. One of the fundamentals in a free society is to have differing opinions and viewpoints, and to have those views available to the public too.

In some jurisdictions, government officials and bureaucrats often, usually in undemocratic countries, attempt to control or regulate the media. It is a convenient way for those petty dictators and bureaucrats to try to control what gets said about them in the press.

The “regulated media” that some petty dictators seek is one where members of a free society must as a group protest. Freedom is just that important.

James Murray

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