Thursday, February 12, 2009

Bold Move by Ontario Human Rights Commission

I'll give Barbara Hall one thing, she's bold. At a time when Human Rights Commissions are facing serious challenges from both federal and provincial governments, Ontario's chief human rights commissioner wants to create a national media watch dog to review all publications such as newspapers, magazines and websites:

The Ontario Human Rights Commission is calling for Parliament to force all Canadian magazines, newspapers and "media services" Web sites to join a national press council with the power to adjudicate breaches of professional standards and complaints of discrimination. . . .

The media's freedom of expression comes with a duty to "address issues of hate expression, and [media] should do so either voluntarily through provincial press councils, or through statutory creation of a national press council with compulsory membership," the report reads.

"At the same time, the OHRC recognizes the media have full freedom and control over what they publish. Ensuring mechanisms are in place to provide opportunity for public scrutiny and the receipt of complaints, particularly from vulnerable groups, is important, but it must not cross the line into censorship."

Barbara Hall, OHRC chief commissioner, said in an interview the rise of the Internet has strengthened the case for a national media watchdog. In her vision, a national press council would be "a vehicle for full discussion about what's written in the media" that is less strict and more accessible than the courts.

Hold on a second, this sounds an awful lot like the current human rights commissions - more accessible then the courts and receiving complaints from vulnerable groups. This would just create more opportunities for left wing interest groups to launch complaints against anyone who disagrees with them as we've seen happen through the recent cases brought against Maclean's for publishing excerpts of America Alone by Mark Steyn.

Fortunately the proposal looks like a non-starter based on the heavy criticism its receiving and the fact that there is no likely champion in Parliament to advocate for such a body. I'm sure there are already many eloquent condemnations of the idea, but for now I'll settle for highlighting some of the highlights from today's National Post editorial, No to National Censorship Council.

As if Barbara Hall's own crude, broadsword agency were not destructive enough of free speech rights, now the Chief Commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) wants a national press council to further chill free expression in the media. And she is not looking just to curtail newspapers, talk radio and television news. Ms. Hall wants any new press council to have jurisdiction over Internet sites and blogs, too. . . She seems to think the best way to preserve free speech is to limit it.

. . .

Ms. Hall also stated that all journalists should put their writings through a "human rights filter" before publication. Because she was not able to force such a filter on Maclean's, her current proposal for a national press council is almost certainly an attempt to make such a filter mandatory, in law.

"Media has a responsibility to engage in fair and unbiased journalism," Ms. Hall has said previously. But because no one has god-like powers to discern accurately what is "fair" and "unbiased," then no one -- not even the chief commissioner -- is qualified to sit in judgment of which articles and opinions meet those criteria and which do not. Most people's interpretation of fair and unbiased reporting corresponds very closely with their own opinions on the subject at issue, and Barbara Hall is no different. She has been granted no special powers not given to other mortals to divine the truth; therefore, neither she nor any other pompous purveyor of social concern has the ability to judge which speech should be free and which not.

"Free societies should not be in the business of criminalizing opinion," Mr. Steyn, told members of Ontario's standing committee on government agencies this week. "When you go down that road, all you do is lead to the situation that you have in, say, Saudi Arabia. In Saudi Arabia, you can't start a newspaper and print what you think, so if you object to the House of Saud, the only thing you can do is blow stuff up."

Similarly, making all writers, bloggers and broadcasters hostage to a national press council is merely the first step toward letting the Barbara Halls of the world decide what you get to hear, see and read. To that, we say: "No, thanks." And so should every newspaper reader, Web surfer and television viewer in the land.

I agree wholeheartedly.

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