Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Phatnom Menace: Attack Ads, the Media Party & the Collusion Scandal That Isn't

So this is happening: the Conservative Party is planning to introduce legislation amending the Canada Copyright Act to exempt political ads from copyrights held by newsmedia. And the Media Party is up in arms over it. Right? Right?

Well, yes and no. Yes, they are up in arms. No, it's not really a political thing.

Recently, emails exchanged between representatives of several news outlets were released. Some people are pretending that these emails are damning evidence of collusion between those news outlets, perhaps for political ends.

If that's the argument intended, then the emails will disappoint. Far from explosive, they're really a quite-banal series of continuous consultations between various news outlets trying to discuss how they will protect their copyrighted material.

The ultimate result of this correspondence was the following letter:
It's actually very underwhelming stuff. Apparently they're concerned that the use of their footage in political ads will raise questions about their independence. Never mind that all sorts of people already raise all sorts of questions about the political independence of the news media: conservatives complain that the news media is too left-wing, and the left complains that it isn't left-wing enough.

The only thing in these emails that comes even close to being provocative, let alone damning or explosive, is this email from CBC's McGuire:
There may inevitably be questions about what construes an "out-of-context" use and whether or not there is sufficient context to justify that. (For example, partisan Liberals love to cite "context" in regards to Justin Trudeau's expressed admiration for China's basic dictatorship, but there is no context present that would make an aspiring democratic leader's admiration for a dictatorship acceptable.)

There are plenty of questions that McGuire and company should feel themselves compelled to answer. Such as: is use of their footage to expose the relevant shortcomings of a political candidate -- as was done to Stephen Dion (who, regardless of how bitterly Liberals may lament it was not a leader) not in the public interest? And can media outlets actually refuse to air an ad because it happens to use footage that may (or may not, as the case may be) belong to another news outlet? Previous case history (LPC v CBC, CTV, 1988) seems to indicate that they don't. Political ads were deemed to be in the public interest.

Are the media party simply taking this stand to protect Justin Trudeau? Their emails make mention of the coming 2015 election only by way of acknowledgement of its approach. And again, the case history -- the Liberal Party suing in 1988 to force CTV and CBC to air their attack ads -- seems to indicate this is not a matter of their political preferences.

In short, this story just is not what some people are making it out to be.

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