A Bite of the Edible Woman – a debate with Margaret Atwood

The last little while, I have been debating Margaret Atwood (@MargaretAtwood) on twitter.

Ms. Atwood has come out swinging against Sun TV (which a mildly terrorist group known as Avaaz refers to as “Fox News North”)

Terrorism is the use of fear to influence behaviour.  Avaaz uses fear to attempt to drum up opposition to Sun TV receiving a broadcast licence, or coverage on cable in Canada, ergo Avaaz is using terrorism, and, (while Avaaz are certainly not murderers or even criminals, they don’t compare Hamas or Al Queda,) they are, in their own way, terrorists.

Ms. Atwood has signed Avaaz’s online petition, entitled, “Stop ‘Fox News North'”

The introductory text reads:

Prime Minister Harper is trying to push American-style hate media onto our airwaves, and make us all pay for it. His plan is to create a “Fox News North” to mimic the kind of hate-filled propaganda with which Fox News has poisoned U.S. politics. The channel will be run by Harper’s former top aide and will be funded with money from our cable TV fees!

Despite being factually incorrect and hyperbolic “Prime Minister Harper is trying…” (which is illegal) and “hate-filled propoganda”.  Fox News may not be shining examples of high-end journalism; but “hate-filled propoganda”?  Come on.  Just because someone does not like you, or what you believe, and says so aggressively and bluntly doesn’t make it hate speech.

Hate speech is advocacy of harm, whether it’s killing a group, or rounding the group up and deporting them, or even simply advocating laws be passed banning a group’s publications or right to express themselves.

Fox News does not come close to “hate-filled propoganda.”

Ms. Atwood has backtracked somewhat, trying to say that she signed a petition calling for Stephen Harper to stop interfering in the licensing process.  I really wonder how stupid she thinks we are.  Read the title of the petition again.  Read the introductory text of the petition.  It says nothing about calling on Harper to stop interfering (which he isn’t legally permitted to do anyway).  No.  It says “Stop ‘Fox News North'”.

Further down, in the text, it does say:

To CRTC Chair von Finckenstein and PM Harper:
As concerned Canadians who deeply oppose American-style hate media on our airwaves, we applaud the CRTC’s refusal to allow a new “Fox News North” channel to be funded from our cable fees. We urge Mr. von Finckenstein to stay in his job and continue to stand up for Canada’s democratic traditions, and call on Prime Minister Harper to immediately stop all pressure on the CRTC on this matter
.

But the title, and the first paragraph are clear: “Stop Fox News North.”  Nothing would make these people happier than to see Sun TV prevented from broadcasting at all.

And Ms. Atwood signed on to that sentiment by signing the petition.

More recently, Ms. Atwood said, on twitter, that she had asked Sun Media if she may address their “barrage of attacks” in their publications.

This is where she and I began debating.

That’s right.  I took on Margaret Atwood.

(To quote the Sarcastic Mannequins, “The Queen of Canadian Culture”.)

I pointed out to her that, whether you agree with Sun TV or not, they should have the same right to expression as she does.  Or you.  Or me, for that matter.

She replied, “So can I have their 10.5 [million] readers + existing TV station?”

That isn’t really a question I can answer.  If Sun Media says, “okay” then sure, she can respond in their publications.  That’s for Sun Media to decide.  It might sell more newspapers, attract more eyeballs to their TV station, so in that sense, it might be a good business decision.  They’re the media company, I’m not, which is why they will decide what is – and isn’t – publication-worthy.

I said as much when I responded to her: “Freedom of speech does not extend to obligation of coverage.”

It really is very simple.  People are under no obligation to agree with Sun TV or Sun Media’s editorial position.  People are under no obligation to watch their TV station, or purchase their newspapers.  If their audience is too small, they’ll fail as a business.  That’s the way things work.  Ms. Atwood, Avaaz, and others, are calling for Sun TV to be blocked before they even set up shop, however.  That’s not business.  That’s censorship.

Ms. Atwood has the same rights as everybody else: to speak and express herself.  Nobody is obligated to actually cover what she says, publish it, or otherwise carry her message.  She can set up a website, twitter account, stand on a fence and shout to the world, but just as she spent 8 years submitting manuscripts to publishers before one agreed to publish it (meaning no publisher is obligated to publish a manuscript) no news agency is obligated to cover what Margaret Atwood (or you or me) has to say on a certain topic.  If their news editor thinks it’s newsworthy, they’ll cover it.  But that is THEIR decision, and nobody else’s.

Let the market decide Sun TV’s fate, not Margaret Atwood, or Avaaz.

That’s what freedom is all about.

About Steven Britton

Steve is a freelance programmer, partial billionaire, dad, Recovering Atheist, Conservative, and occasionally prolific blogger.