In and Out, Conservatives respond

A copy of a letter sent to the President of the Liberal Party Senator Marie Poulin and Executive Director Greg Fergus landed in my inbox tonight. It concerns Conservative Party assertions that statements made in a recent Liberal Party backgrounder on what they’ve named the “In and Out” scandal concerning the “Conservatives’ apparent scheme to violate election spending limits” are in fact defamatory. The Conservatives stress that “Chief Electoral Officer Marc Maynard…has not accused any of the candidates or agents of breaking the law”.

The letter concerns the defense of Michael Donison, Neil Drabkin, Andrew House, Aaron Hynes, Andrea Paine and Ian West. The letter states that “it is defamatory to suggest or imply that these individuals have engaged in illegal conduct”.

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In this document, found on the Liberal Party website, the Liberals seem to imply that rewards in the form of government jobs were received by candidates who participated in the scheme that the Liberals allege.

Liberal MP Dominic Leblanc stated,

“To date, we have learned that eleven of the former Conservative candidates and official agents implicated in this scandal were named to federal appointments or were hired in high profile government jobs. One has to wonder if there is a connection between their willingness to participate and employment by this Conservative government”

The Conservatives allege that such statements are libelous as the letter addressed to the Liberals reads, “In particular, it is defamatory to suggest or imply that the positions that these individuals have or have had on Ministers’ staffs are “rewards” for having engaged in illegal conduct.”

The Conservatives seem to assert that the Liberals must prove that their accusations are true or else the Grits have libeled the aforementioned individuals.

Please read Steve Janke’s groundbreaking posts concerning this story, here, here and here.

Shutting down speech on Canadian television

In Canada like the United States, television content is subject to review by regulatory bodies for a variety of reasons. In Canada, however, this material is subject to review for undesired political messaging.

Take a look at the following two produced-for-television spots from the Canadian Renewable Fuels Association (CRFA):


Bio Who?


On The Hill

It might surprise you to find out that the spots were canned by a regulatory body of private broadcasters called the Television Bureau of Canada (TVB). In the opinion of this self-regulatory body for networks such as CTV and Global, the content of the ads has been classified as “Issue and Opinion” by TVB. In fact, according to a letter obtained by this blogger (reproduced below), “the subject of renewable fuels being a hot topic these days makes it an opinion expressed.” Uh oh.

You might be thinking that opinion has never really been subject to censorship in Canada unless it crosses the line of hateful speech, decency or the promotion of unlawful activity. Of course, the Canadian Renewable Fuels Association is doing nothing of the sort in these spots.

Here is the letter from TVB to the advertising agency for Canadian Renewable Fuels:

The “On the Hill” spot was deemed unairable for a couple of reasons. First, Canadians would not be protected, it seems from clandestine opinions to change their economic behaviour (in the advertising industry, this is called “9 to 5, 7 days a week, 365 days a year”). Because renewable fuels is a political “hot topic”, vulnerable Canadians might suffer if the source of the advertising is not “on screen for at least 6 seconds [occupying] 1/3 of the screen in size”. The closing tag “greenfuels.org” on the spot is too covert for the audience even though it is likely meant as a plug for a website on which the CRFA presumably wants the audience to visit.

And what’s this about an “attestation letter” to the rights to use footage of Harper and the claim that the PM’s personal permission to use electoral footage of himself is needed before CRFA can proceed? Did anyone else know that the use of footage of a political candidate is forbidden in this country without the express written permission of that individual?

My pal Kory Teneycke, executive director of the CRFA wrote to the Conservative Party to inquire about such a request and passed on the party’s response to me:

Armed with confimation of his common sense, Teneycke wrote to TVB and expressed his concern:

What is your opinion on the stifling of speech on the over-regulated medium that is television in this country? I can think of a few instances of the suppression of public debate in this country, but only via government bodies. This marks a particularly egregious example perpetrated by a private organization. Further, this case is yet another example of how YouTube is helping individuals/organizations get around the regulatory filters. And why was the use of Harper’s image in a commercial that actually compliments his environmental plan such a deal-breaker for the Television Bureau of Canada?

You can write Jim Patterson, the President of the Television Bureau of Canada (Telecaster, TVB) at jpatterson@tvb.ca

UPDATE: CRFA mascot, Corncob Bob is on a Hunger Strike to protest the Television Bureau of Canada’s decision!

UPDATE: Gerry Nicholls, VP of the National Citizens Coalition and veteran of fighting censorship in advertising had the following to say when contacted for comment:

“Just another sad example of how we are regulating speech in this country and how we consistently underestimate the intelligence of Canadian consumers.”

UPDATE: Gerry also comments on his blog