Self-censorship can be just as powerful a force as state censorship, as many current and former RT employees will attest (off the record)
The CRTC banished Russian state broadcaster RT from regulated bandwidth on Wednesday, to near universal applause. Most Canadians won’t be familiar enough with the network to agree or disagree with the CRTC’s central rationale, which is that RT’s content “tends to or is likely to expose the Ukrainian people to hatred or contempt on the basis of their race, national or ethnic origin.” But the decision makes sense on a more basic level: In a few short, brutal weeks, Vladimir Putin has transformed Russia into an outright pariah state. It seems a reasonable-enough policy that we not host pariah-state broadcasters on what amounts to public property.
Just because it makes sense doesn’t make it useful, though. This is an almost laughably 20th-century solution to the problems it seeks to address. Not only can Canadians stream RT for free over the internet any time they want — in both English and French, no less — but the most newsworthy segments (for better or worse) get clipped and uploaded to YouTube and social media in droves. Not only was it of questionable utility for the state to get involved, it was also arguably unnecessary: Bell, Rogers and Telus had all removed RT from their channel offerings even before Ottawa “requested” the CRTC examine the issue — a not-insignificant gesture, considering that RT actually paid Canadian TV providers for carriage.
To which a depressing number of Canadians, including many Liberal MPs, would answer: Well, why not just have the CRTC regulate the internet as well?
Why not, indeed. This RT decision needs to be viewed in the wider context of the federal government’s ongoing mission to target “misinformation,” turn social media giants into de-facto government censors, put as many mass-media outlets as possible on taxpayer support and generally crack down on what Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would call “unacceptable” viewpoints. In that light, while certainly a defensible decision, kicking RT off cable isn’t nearly so anodyne.
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Also this week, Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez promised to follow up on reports that Common Ground, a British Columbia magazine aimed at the anti-vax yoga-practising vegan conspiracist community — David Suzuki is a regular columnist — has recently been pushing a link between pediatric COVID-vaccination and cancer, singing the praises of Ivermectin, and supporting the conspiracist version of the World Economic Forum’s proposed “Great Reset.” Rodriguez is upset because Common Ground got $17,000 from his department as part of a pandemic bailout program for periodicals.
“We are having discussions internally because there’s no way that Canada Heritage will support any type of disinformation,” Rodriguez vowed on Wednesday, either not realizing or not caring — Liberals rarely do — just how chilling that sounds.
Concern over conspiracy theories and quackery is justified, especially during a pandemic. But the pandemic also provides us with an unusually good example of the practical dangers of censorship, whether it’s by government, or on behalf of government, or for fear of offending government. Self-censorship can be just as powerful a force as state censorship, as many current and former RT employees will attest (off the record).
By global standards, Canada hasn’t done a terrible job managing the pandemic. But for more than two years now, our politicians and public-health officials have been feeding us a steady diet of corn-studded bullcrap: masks don’t work and can make things worse; rapid antigen tests don’t work and can make things worse; border closures don’t work and can make things worse and are also racist. The virus shouldn’t be considered airborne. There is no need to test people arriving from abroad. Update: Everyone arriving from abroad must be tested, and also quarantine for 14 days. Children are at great risk from COVID-19, which is why we have to close schools. It’s safe for Walmart to sell bicycles but not for your local bicycle store. Update: Walmart is now banned from selling bicycles as well.
Yes, this is all based on science. No, you cannot see the science.
Many worry about the trust in institutions that has been lost as a result of all this flailing guesswork, and rightly so. But the trust clearly wasn’t deserved to begin with. A government that takes its constituents for fools is the last one you want to give more power over what can and cannot be said about it, or about anything else.
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