Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Here's a novel idea: Freedom of Expression...For Canadians, Anyway

AdBusters, a "a global network of artists, activists, writers, pranksters, students, educators and entrepreneurs who want to advance the new social activist movement of the information age, whose aim is to topple existing power structures and forge a major shift in the way we will live in the 21st century," is going to court in Canada to force Canada's private broadcasters to sell the organization time to broadcast AdBusters' famed, and often barbed, 'Public Service' spots.

From the press release announcing their forthcoming 'day in court,":
For more than a decade, Adbusters, a magazine and media foundation, has been trying to pay major commercial broadcasters to air its public-service TV spots, but these attempts have been routinely blocked by network executives, often with little or no explanation. In 2004, Adbusters finally turned to the courts. It filed a lawsuit against the government of Canada and some of the country’s biggest media barons, arguing that the public has a constitutionally protected freedom of expression over the public airwaves.

At issue is the right of all Canadian citizens to have (as stipulated by the Canadian Broadcasting Act) “a reasonable opportunity…to be exposed to the expression of differing views on matters of public concern.”

“This case will decide if Canadians have the right to walk into their local TV stations and buy thirty seconds of airtime for a message they want to air,” says Kalle Lasn, editor-in-chief of Adbusters.
Canadian law is a bit more specific about the right of citizens to hear diverse points of view than are laws in the US on this matter. In fact, I cannot think of any USer statute that empowers an audience like the Canadian one does.

The case, on the whole, raises an interesting question: Is there within the right to speak a right to communicate? A right to speak is pretty much meaningless if the only venue available to you to proclaim your speech is the bottom of a very deep, lonely, singular well. Doesn't the right to speak imply the concomitant 'right' to be heard? Absent that latter coda, isn't the former 'right' rather a cynical joke, a sham on the spirit of the protected liberty than anexplicit condition of freedom?

I have never understood the position that the broadcaster, using the public airwaves, had an a priori right to censor political speech merely because such speech might express opinions inimical to the commercial interests of their sponsors and advertizers. For USers, any 'right' to diverse sources of information would have to be 'implied' or 'inferred' from the First Amendment, and possibly from whatever Communications Act was in place at the time.

Given the tenor of the current SCROTUS, it is unlikely that such an argument as is proffered by AdBusters in Canada would find any traction in the USer jurisprudence. But it will be interesting, nevertheless, to see if the Canadians have a more highly developed sensibility here--aas in so many other ways--than their brutish, criminal cousins to the south.

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