Wednesday, 2 March 2011

First They Came For The Bigots (and then they stopped there, and nobody really minded...)

Oh, America. America the Free.

There are a lot of things I love about this country. But there are some oddities I can't quite figure out. As a Canuck south of the border, there are some things that just seem off: the demonizing of the word socialism; the insistence that gun ownership be protected by the state; the no-holds-barred attitude to freedom of speech.

That last one is what's come up in my news feed twice recently, in differing ways.

On the one hand, we have this: the upholding of the "no lying on the news" law in Canada that's essentially preventing the spread of Fox-News-Style-Insanity north of the border. Canada has put a limit on freedom of the press, though it's not one you should really concern yourself with. It just says that it's illegal to lie on the news.

On the other hand, this: the US supreme court has said it's okay for right-wing bigots to picket funerals. America the Free won't curtail the Westboro Baptist Family's noxious hate speech because, as Chief Justice John Roberts says, we can't curtail "even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate."

I'm just not in favour of absolutism, I guess. I believe, strongly and wholeheartedly, that there is indeed a definite time and place for the curtailing of freedom of speech. Incitement to violence is one good example. Hate speech is another. Lying on the news? Yeah, that should be illegal too.

Incitement to violence is fairly obvious - speech that calls for violence can and will be listened to, and making it illegal holds culpable for the violence those who called for it. Hate speech is violent in itself: is society improved in any respect by speech whose sole purpose is to promote hatred? No. And the deliberate misrepresentation of facts in a medium that is trusted (read: lying on the news) does violence to one of the most cherished institutions of western society -- the democratic process. It should be no more legal to lie on the news than to lie during an election campaign (which should be, and sadly is not yet, illegal).

Do these curtailments of freedom of speech harm society? Is there any social good that could come from allowing hate speech, calls for violence, or lies on the news? My answer would be no, what about yours?

It's not a slippery slope. Healthy debate should be protected -- but the key word there is healthy. A debate with someone who refuses in their argument to acknowledge the basic dignity and humanity of their opponent isn't a healthy argument, it's a racist/sexist/homophobic screed. Nothing useful is produced.

Reporting of the truth -- with whatever point of view you wish to report it -- should never be banned. Truth is the cornerstone of western civilization and I stand behind it. The truth will out.

Lies, (not different opinions, those are fine, but lies) on the other hand, should be banned from any media purporting to deliver truth. I'm all in favour of left- and right-wing news stations, so long as they tell the truth. We hold legally to account advertisers who make false claims -- why not news stations?

As for the Westboro Baptist Family, they do nothing but spread hatred of a minority group at the expense of society. It is not healthy debate, it is hate speech.

So anyway. That's why the Canadians ban them entry to the country.

No comments: