14 February 2009

BC "Gag" Law

We are in favour of the new election law brought in by Bill 42. With one qualification. We reject the new ID provisions.

As for the substance of the Bill - to restrict third party advertising within the 90-day period before an election - we applaud it.

Certain freedom of speech enthusiasts bark that the law amounts to censorship. Well, we would argue that powerful unions, non-profits and for-profits, none of which have voting rights in elections, also haven't the right to freedom of speech.

Rights and responsibilities belong to individual citizens, not to organizations. (Which brings up a whole other problem re organized religion but hey, that's an entirely different topic.)

Having money to buy ads to promote your favorite party is not about free speech. It's about spending copious amounts of money to influence people to vote your way.

What if we, as members of a union, don't want our union dues spent on promoting a particular party? - something which has happened to one of us. With Bill 42, it's still possible for individuals in the unions or corporations to talk it up all they want to anyone who will listen.

It would appear that many progressives (most?) don't like this bill and we, among progressives, have said we deplore the new ID rules. However, we remain adamantly in favour of the principle of limiting advertising by third parties for 90 days before an election.

The bill doesn't eliminate advertising altogether; less expensive ways of getting the word out - other than through the purchase of TV or radio air time or glitzy mailers - is still possible.

This so-called "gag" legislation encourages individuals to talk to one another. If union, advocacy and environmental organizations are so gung-ho, then they can rally their volunteers and ask them to start knocking on doors and speaking to people one-on-one. Or they can design their own flyers, print them up mom-and-pop style and distribute them in their neighbourhoods.

All that aside one site provides food for thought - and it did give us pause. For example, we have a lot of respect for civil liberties organizations generally, although we know little about our own BC Civil Liberties Association.

The BCLA has also come out against Bill 42. In the their media release of May 27, 2008, they state:
Given the cost of advertising in major radio, TV and print media, the advertising restrictions would effectively prevent any individual or group from conducting any effective advertising campaign regarding the election. In the last provincial election, the BC Teachers Federation spent $1.55 million on ads, the Hospital Employees Union spent $550,000 and the B.C. Nurses' Union $250,000. [our emphasis]

Which only convinces us that the new restrictions are appropriate.

We observe that those writing for corporate media don't like the Bill either, people writing for giants such as CTVglobemedia - which owns the Globe and Mail - and CanWest - which saturates the BC market with its ownership of the Vancouver Sun, Victoria Times Colonist, The Province and Global TV.

Now why might media types be alarmed? Is it so much a concern for "free speech" as it is the loss of advertising revenue?

One has to wonder how many 'ordinary' citizens may have commented in favour of the legislation but never got their opinions into print or onto the airwaves.

[Co-authored by Daphne and Ocean.]

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