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LETTER – A response to Armchair Mayor’s column on censorship

WE AT THE Book and Periodical Council (BPC) read Mel Rothenburger’s opinion about the terrorist atrocity in Christchurch, New Zealand, with interest.
“The World Decides Not to Play the Killer’s Game” appeared on the website of CFJC Today on March 16, 2019.Because the BPC encourages people across Canada to participate in Freedom to Read Week at the end of February, and because Mr. Rothenburger criticized Freedom to Read Week in the middle of his article, we would like an opportunity to respond.Mr. Rothenburger’s thesis is simple. The executives who own and operate the global electronic media acted responsibly when they blocked the transmission of the terrorist’s video and manifesto. The supporters of Freedom to Read Week are foolish or irresponsible for opposing censorship.

We were a bit surprised to find critical paragraphs about Freedom to Read Week in this article. Freedom to Read Week encourages Canadians to celebrate their freedom to read books, magazines and newspapers and raises Canadians’ awareness of censorship in Canada. This year, we celebrate our 35th anniversary.

We said nothing about the media executives who decided to block the terrorist’s video and manifesto because they direct privately owned companies. They have the right to decide what they will and will not transmit. People who object can patronize other companies.

But we wonder how Mr. Rothenburger would react if the same executives – Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, for example – censored text or video that Mr. Rothenburger liked. What would he say?

What could he do but fulminate against the vagaries of censorship? Mr. Rothenburger is kidding himself if he thinks that unelected censors in private corporations or the government will always act according to his values and wishes.

He quotes and dismisses as fallacious a paragraph from our Freedom to Read website: “Freedom to read can never be taken for granted. Even in Canada, a free country by world standards, books and magazines are banned at the border.

“Schools and libraries are regularly asked to remove books and magazines from their shelves. Free expression on the internet is under attack. Few of these stories make headlines, but they affect the right of Canadians to decide for themselves what they choose to read.”

We stand by these words. We prefer to let ordinary citizens decide what to read and think than to let anonymous government officials and self-appointed pressure groups decide for us. We support freedom of choice. We do not, of course, endorse the thinking and violence of extremists, and we advise all people to reject the thinking and violence of extremists.

We also abide by the laws of Canada, including the laws listed by Mr. Rothenburger’s article: the laws against defaming a person’s character, lying under oath, propagating hatred and inciting people to violence.

We acknowledge the right of judges sitting in court to restrict access to published works. We also reserve the right to criticize badly worded laws and bad judicial decisions that affect our expression rights and our freedom to read.

Mr. Rothenburger ends his article with these words: “The old argument in favour of total freedom of speech has been lost, but in its place is a new, nuanced and compassionate principle.” If he had bothered to ask us, we would have told Mr. Rothenburger that we have always acknowledged some limits on expression.

However, he’ll have to work harder to persuade us that censorship produces a more compassionate society.

R. FRANKLIN CARTER
Book and Periodical Council – Freedom of Expression Committee

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About Mel Rothenburger (6616 Articles)
ArmchairMayor.ca is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At ArmchairMayor.ca he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

1 Comment on LETTER – A response to Armchair Mayor’s column on censorship

  1. David Johnson // May 5, 2019 at 10:33 AM // Reply

    I didnt originally read Mels piece as an attack on supporters of Freedom to Read Week, but as one side of a difficult and nuanced discussion. Sure … he could have been a bit more full rounded in his description of the ideologies of the groups approach to the issue, but at the same time it wasn’t as harsh as this letter suggests.
    One could consider the opportunity to take advantage of the exposure has been scooped up by the group … I’d never heard of them before, now I have. They win.

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