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.”