Free Speech, Censorship, and Why Ryerson’s Journalism Program Can Go F#@k Itself


On November 24th a “roast” was held for me and it was a fantastic night.

During my speech I raised the “Ryerson” incident that was recently revived.
About 10 years ago I received a call from a young woman from the Ryerson School of Journalism who asked if I would write the main article for their “Annual”. I accepted and asked no money in return.
I asked her if she knew who I was and what I did. She assured me that she did.
Addressing myself to the graduates, I did an essay on free speech and concluded with the statement that they had all better be “ready to self censor or that they would be censored”.
Some weeks later the same young woman called me again and was obviously in some distress as she told me that my article was “unsuitable”.
“Was it badly written?” I asked.
“Not at all – it was very well written…it’s just…unsuitable.”
“To whom?” I asked.
“It was just unsuitable.”
“Why?” I asked.
“It’s just unsuitable – but we have a couple of options here. We can pay you $100.”
“I don’t want your money,” I said.
“The second option is you can do another article.”
“There is a third option,” I replied. “You can all go fuck yourselves!”
My God! One of the top schools of journalism rejects an article on free speech! If ever I needed verification of my statement, here it was!
A few weeks later I happened to be interviewing the deputy dean of Ryerson and I told him this story, off air. He protested vehemently, assuring me he would look into the matter and would get back to me in a few days.
I never heard from the man again.
Fast forward to about three weeks ago when I got an email from a young woman from Ryerson asking me if I would give her an interview for the Annual. I agreed and made a time and date in Lions Bay for the chat. She was delighted and couldn’t wait – so she said.
A few days later I received an email from her saying that the subject, being put to a lot of journalists across the country, was “your biggest disappointment in your career,” and asking me what my answer would be. I immediately replied “the censorship of my article for Ryerson School of Journalism.” That happened to be true.
She wrote back saying that this wasn’t really what she was looking for.
Perhaps a day later she sent another email.
“While I would love to conduct the interview, the issue is not that you are criticizing Ryerson or the Review (which we have no problem with), but rather that what you wish to talk about doesn’t exactly fit in with our theme. I really want to stress the fact that this is not a cancellation due to the fact that you are angry with our publication; it is because this series is specific to “most” tales. Examples from previous videos show journalists talking about their dumbest moment on a deadline, their most awkward meal, etc. And while your story is interesting to be sure, it is not a “most” something from your journalistic career. I hope you understand.”
Somehow Ryerson doesn’t quite understand that a journalist who has fought for years for free speech in this country would think that being denied it was a big disappointment.
Let me now go to 1990 when another “roast” in my honour was held. I asked that all proceeds go to the UBC School of Journalism and with some help from Jimmy Pattison, a scholarship in my name was set up and when it was handed out I was asked to make the presentation.
Of course I agreed and was asked to say a few words, which I did, warning the graduates that when they got into the Canadian media they would either self-censor or be censored.
I have never been asked back! A scholarship in my bloody name and I don’t get to make the presentation.
The upshot of this is that the Canadian media is censored in the absence of appropriate self-control by the journalist, as demonstrated twice by the #1 or #2 journalism school in the nation and repeatedly for a decade by my old alma mater, the University of British Columbia.
How does this censorship happen?
For the most part, it’s simply an understanding that some questions and some subjects for columns and articles are just “not on”.
Let’s go back to 1991-2001 when the NDP governed BC. They were, even by the standards set by the Vander Zalm government before them, pretty awful. Every political pundit in the province, including me, held their tootsies firmly to the flame for that decade. Especially expert in their shots were columnists, one of whom brought them down almost single-handedly over the “Fastcat” ferries and Mr. Clark’s naivete over a gambling licence.
Now it’s 2001 and Gordon Campbell is in power and almost in the drive home from government gives a huge tax rebate to better off folks. The bumbling and fumbling, the loss of BC Ferries, BC Rail and the virtual bankruptcy of BC Hydro made Glen Clark’s misdeeds look liked childish pranks. It’s been a decade of paying off political pals, resulting in the government that was supposed to be fiscally superior more than tripling the real provincial debt.
The zealous media that thrashed the NDP has become a snoozing, slothful syndicate of political poodles reporting only that which simply couldn’t be ignored as news; the ignoring being done on a daily basis by the same columnists who did their duty and then some during the NDP years.
I hasten to observe that I don’t blame the journalists themselves – they have families, mortgages and kids’ education to pay for and I don’t think I would have been any better if I didn’t have a legal profession to fall back on.
Probably the worst example of media favouritism is the Vancouver Sun, whose editor in charge of the editorial pages was a fellow of the Fraser Institute, a right wing (to say the least) “think tank” that churns out big business babble to a fare-the-well. If you wish an example you only need look at the number of times Mary-Ellen Walling, the fish farmers’ flack, and environmental whores like Patrick Moore, get op-ed columns with no similar access to the other side of these environmental debates.
This is not mere mental meandering but very practical – when you see what’s happening with wild salmon because of farmed fish cages, what’s happened to BC Hydro and our rivers because of sweetheart deals it’s been forced to make, what’s happened and is happening to lakes to be mined, to say nothing of the pipelines from the Tar Sands, then tankers down the coast, you must ask yourself where has the mainstream media been? The answer is short and clear: Up Big Business’ ass.
You simply cannot have a functioning democracy without a media that keeps pressure on the government as they go. That doesn’t mean that the government isn’t entitled to praise when they do good things but that their every action is assessed with a jaundiced eye as in days gone by.
It must always be remembered that the government has unlimited use of public funds with which to bombard the public with their spin.

I close with a bit of doggerel slightly altered to fit:

You cannot hope to bribe or twist,
(thank God!) the BC journalist
But, seeing what the man will do
Unbribed, there’s no occasion to

As A.J,Leibling put it “Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.”



About Rafe Mair

Rafe Mair, LL.B, LL.D (Hon) a B.C. MLA 1975 to 1981, was Minister of Environment from late 1978 through 1979. In 1981 he left politics for Talk Radio becoming recognized as one of B.C.'s pre-eminent journalists. An avid fly fisherman, he took a special interest in Atlantic salmon farms and private power projects as environmental calamities and became a powerful voice in opposition to them. Rafe is the co-founder of The Common Sense Canadian and writes a regular blog at

18 thoughts on “Free Speech, Censorship, and Why Ryerson’s Journalism Program Can Go F#@k Itself

  1. nicely put! I’ve just recently experienced the deception of the media first hand, during the Occupy movement in Victoria. 20+ interviews with television, radio, and newspaper reporters, and either the interview was not aired or printed, or it was hacked up to make me look like an idiot. Changing the meaning of everything i said.
    I hate corporate media!!! The world needs to turn off the TV !

  2. May I also comment on the destruction of the Crystal Garden Conservation Centre for endangered species in Victoria, a story that just would not be picked up elsewhere in BC, or across the country, despite vast opposition. But then, there was coverage nationwide of a few broken branches at Butchart Gardens that winter and a canoe museum in Ontario where there was no controversy attached!

  3. Way to go, Rafe! Freedom of speech is indeed a dying (or in the case of the MSM, dead) right in our country.

    Thanks to you, Damien Gillis, and Harvey Oberfeld, we have a place where we can openly question the integrity of our news media.

  4. . . . Ryerson’s Journalism Program Can Go F#@k Itself”. Well said, Rafe, and forceful too! Same can be said of our shared alma mater.

    I do believe, essentially, MSM is catering to its identified audience.

    One need only watch the popular blogs (CSC excluded) to see the twaddle gossip that goes on as public discourse: 6.5/5, (that tells me who they are!), and on the boss’s dime.

    Bicycles, bike lanes and the lack thereof, gossip is the rage (very, very polite and measured) on Vancouver’s most popular blogs, and has been for three years, with no sign of let-up: right turn off Burrard Bridge needs work, Howe bike lane under-used. Is Tenth the best route? Why not Broadway! Buses get in the way etc. etc., . . . SOV’s should be banned and on and on and on.

    R of R! Woz’at? DL33! Ditto.

    The same not-so-old dilapidated gossips will be at it three years hence no doubt.

    Yup, MSM’s prestitutes are over paid but they know their audience.

  5. Sooo many amazing people leading the fight here in BC: Rafe, Chief Marilyn Baptiste, David Beers, Sandy Garrosino … almost calls out for the establishment of a new political party. I have no faith though that any political party will really do the kind of things that need to be done. The problem: their Job#1 is to get re-elected. So … programs like investing in early childhood development or a green economy don’t get the attention they deserve, because those fruits won’t be seen in time for the next vote.
    Yes, the press is a poodle, but the problem is that the public largely sit on their hands and accept this sorry state of affairs. A majority of BCers supported the Occupy protests, but few actually took the time to make their voices heard. What is needed is a 6th estate: a loud, active and engaged citizenry that knows democracy is about more than just marking a ballot once every 4 years, but about playing a daily role in the health of your neighbourhood/city/province/country.
    Maybe it’s time to bring all these voices together under one banner; a real think (and do) tank, not a Tea Party per se, but maybe a Taseko Party, a squeaky wheel that gets the grease.

  6. I think Rafe at 80 years old sums it up very well on the state of media coverage and investigation in BC.

    “When you see what’s happening with wild salmon because of farmed fish cages, what’s happened to BC Hydro and our rivers because of sweetheart deals it’s been forced to make, what’s happened and is happening to lakes to be mined, to say nothing of the pipelines from the Tar Sands, then tankers down the coast, you must ask yourself where has the mainstream media been? The answer is short and clear: Up Big Business’ ass. You simply cannot have a functioning democracy without a media that keeps pressure on the government.”

    Even with the internet, big business continues to have control of the media and the info most Canadians receive.

  7. I wholeheartedly agree with you kim, but there are couple of others, like Harvey Oberfeld or Sean Holman. He unfortunately had to shut down his Public Eye because the complacent burgers of this Province could not come up with 10 bucks per month, The price of 2 of those fancy coffees at Starbucks.

  8. Would love to get a massive petition to all the ADVERTISERS around all newscasts, letting them know we will not be purchasing from them anymore. Having been in ad media for over 30 years, you can bet that would have us questioning things. And if that same petition went to the ad agencies of those advertisers: I’m just doing the “visual” at the agency… mayhem….. chaos. Perfect. The newscasters may have recourse to change if they think it’s going to get them in the pocketbook.

  9. When the people of B.C. finally get real control of our government – that’s the only way that we’ll ever get genine freedom of expression.

    Until the majority realizes that, we’re just pissing upwind!

  10. The self -censorship of journalists especially those in the local print media was painfully evident in Abbotsford from March 2011 onward regarding the Stave Lake P3 scheme. Thankfully there are online media like the Common Sense Canadian who are committed to the ethical responsibility of the Fifth Estate in sharing all sides of an issue (not just those promoted by their advertisers) which ended up being out and out abuse of the extraordinary status of the local print media in Canada.

  11. when the mentioned ‘think tank has $$$ backers like the koch brothers, (environmental phucktards that don’t care who they poison) is it any wonder environmental concerns are seemingly not “think tank” concerns..
    “I don’t really have a problem with people digging into finances of any sort, though the fact that environmental groups have ties across the border isn’t particularly disturbing. The think tanks do, too. For instance, the Fraser Institute gets money from the Koch brothers, the Mellon family, formerly (if not presently – I’m not sure) from Exxon, etc, etc.”

  12. Of course the Canadian media is censored, one just has to read the Vancouver Daily fish-wrap or listen to Bill boring on the sad old hound radio ’98.

    Canada is a country of the big lie and to maintain the big lie, the media must do a George Orwell and print un-news. The truth like honest reporting is bothersome and embarrassing to politicians and senior bureaucrats.

    If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”

    Joseph Goebbels

  13. Thank you Rafe. In this BC Circus of bold-faced trickery and mis-information, your truths are a balm to our battered souls. God luv ya’. And I loved your ‘do last Thursday. You are indeed the last righteous man in BC. May you inspire others to follow in your footsteps. And Damien is an excellent propect!

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