Saturday, March 12, 2011

Fail Quote: Preventing news broadcasters from knowingly lying on the air is “censorship”?

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Sun TV News logo

From Libertarian blogger at Political Culpa, Taylor A. Barnette, waxing sanctimony over Canada’s refusal to let Sun TV News (“Fox News North”) poison the airwaves as Fox has in his own country:

And so, while Canada might be a Fox-free, Michael Moore-approved Promised Land where healthcare flows like milk and honey, it certainly isn't free. I trust my fellow liberal Americans (excluding Kennedy) understand this. I trust that even though Fox (or Faux?) News might be the scourge of lefties everywhere, we can agree that its presence is healthier than its absence.

Much of the post is inane grandstanding devoid of logical argumentation, yet while that in itself isn’t worthy of a mention, I thought that last bit was just too savory. So, according to this latest radical Libertarian*, stopping an entity known for spreading little more than misinformation and smears, a group that (along with others like it) has successfully and thoroughly polluted the American political discourse, from going on the airwaves and knowingly, deliberately, spouting the same false crap here is unwarranted censorship. And in doing so, Canada is no longer “free”.

Okay, two little pointers. Firstly, censorship is when the government or similar authoritarian body prevents a person or group from speaking their minds as they see fit (as long as this does not fit under certain types of threats and criminal defamation, which I think everyone will agree are well beyond the pale for any sort of discourse). If Sun TV was not allowed to say things that, whilst true (or, at least, not knowingly false), somehow embarrassed the government, then that would be textbook censorship.

However, that is absolutely not the case, here. Sun TV is not being prevented from speaking their minds and sharing their opinions. It is being stopped from claiming things they know are bullshit to be news. One’s understanding of censorship and extents of free speech may vary, but anyone who honestly believes that people should be allowed to go on the air, knowingly and deliberately disseminate falsehoods, and escape all accountability for it, is someone with a very skewed, absolutist and frankly dangerous understanding of what “freedom” entails.

Lies are not news. You are free to spread lies as much as you want on your own time and dime, but the government has the right to prevent you from calling it objective reporting. That is not censorship. It is common sense. Sure, the inner free speech absolutist in me does feel some minor qualms about government restraining any speech at all (again, other than some threats and defamation), but that is promptly overridden by the knowledge and experience that the result is undoubtedly a better, healthier and more productive media and national discourse. And in the end, that’s the goal that we must aspire to, even if it means not letting propagandists do their schtick. (If you don’t believe me, then ask Canadians in general what they think of Fox News and the political climate in the US, and if they’d rather swap places.)

And secondly: Fox News’s “presence is healthier than its absence”? Look, I understand the point Barnette’s trying to make, here, but really, given the context (and the objective knowledge of all that Fox News does), no-one capable of saying something that monumentally idiotic retains any shred of credibility.

(via @todayspolitics)

* I keep telling people that most Libertarians are perfectly rational (“socially liberal, fiscally conservative”); I even agree with much of what they say. But crackpots like this guy make convincing folks of this that much harder.