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Sunday, January 10, 2010

Intellectual freedom in Canada: Recent news continues to show slow but real progress

First, I am embarrassed to be a citizen of a country where I must pay taxes to support government-funded snoops, sneaks, and snitches*, but we continue our quest to get a grip on this problem.

Here's Dean Jobb of the Winnipeg Free Press on "The Right to Be Wrong" (2010 01 02)
The defence of "responsible communication on matters of public interest" means the media may not have to prove every fact or allegation it reports. Truth remains a defence to libel, of course, and it's not asking too much of journalists to get their facts straight.

But the new defence holds journalists to the legal standard expected of other professions.

If a bridge collapses, it may not be the fault of the engineer who designed it. The question is whether the steps taken to build the bridge were reasonable and in keeping with the best practices of the profession.

So instead of expecting journalists to be perfect and to get everything right, the defence essentially gives them the right to be wrong. And if an error is found to have sullied someone's reputation, a libel claim may be defeated. The focus becomes what was done to research the story and whether the journalist made every effort to be accurate and fair.
To me, it is not so much a right to be wrong, as the headline suggests, but a right to a fair judgement of the salient facts, the ones that really matter. For example, suppose a politician's summer place on an exclusive lake was bought for her by the government. The fact that the government paid for it is far more important than whether the government paid $350 thousand or $450 thousand.

Taxpayers who struggle with their own mortgages bought it for her, and they are entitled to know that their money was used in that way. The sum can be worked out later. No one should be allowed to interfere with a journalist's right to report the basic story by threatening frivolous lawsuits over details.

Hat tip Franklin Carter at the Book and Periodical Council's Freedom of Expression Committee

Carter also mentions that a huge chain of Canadian newspapers has been granted bankruptcy protection. So far as I can see, other papers are chortling - with understandably subdued glee. The shape of media today is drastically changing. It's unclear whether or not printer's ink will be a part of it.

And the biggest question is whether political interests will move in to try to get control of the news.

* In case you wondered: Yes indeed. Some might in fact use the corrupt system to hide real Nazi beliefs, claiming that they only "pretend" to hold such beliefs. How on earth would you or I know? That is one reason why regular police operations aim at caution in how information is sourced.

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