More Gag Laws?

First Published: 2000-04-25

There is a disturbing trend toward the silencing of critics of the government. Legislation has recently been passed to impose restraints on the press. Policies like these can further inhibit the responsibility of the press to provide different points of view, particularly where politics is concerned.

This bill will add to the already confused policy of gagging the press…both print and radio…at election time when only the statements issued by the party leaders are allowed coverage. Gag laws like these have already been defeated in Alberta, Canada by the National Citizen-s Coalition (NCC) as being unconstitutional. In fact, on appeal by the government "Madame Justice Carole Conrad, one of three judges on the appeal panel, wrote that the gag law" "is legislation which ironically alleges to protect the democratic process by means of infringing the very rights which are fundamental to a democracy."

Most worrisome is the proposal that the televising of debates in the House of Assembly should cease.

If "Journalism – is the – gathering (by reporters), evaluating (by editors) and disseminating (through various media) of facts of current interest" this cannot be limited to one point of view or source.

Reporters should be encouraged to verify information they receive. After all, no matter who we are, we present the facts from our point of view. However, if counter arguments are presented to issues raised, judgement as to a correct course of action is properly left to the public.

Respect for individual freedom of expression.

By providing private radio licences, the Free National Movement government, properly opened the former repression of speech to a freer market in communications – an essential step for a truly democratic country that respects individual freedom of expression.

These additional suppliers of news and information have stirred the emotions of everyone. There are times when many people would like to reach through the radio and gag the announcer or protagonist, but this is what makes us think about our personal perspective… and should help us grow as a people.

If the personal attacks are limited, we will eventually find ourselves debating fact and not emotion. After all, both sides of any position, opinion, or argument are guaranteed by our Constitution. Article 23 (1) states: Except with his consent, no person shall be hindered in the enjoyment of his freedom of expression, and for the purposes of this Article the said freedom includes freedom to hold opinions, to receive and impart ideas and information without interference, and freedom from interference with his correspondence.

A great leap backwards!

In a modern, democratic and free society it is fundamental that we uphold The Constitution. It is the responsibility of the so-called -Fourth Estate-, (the media) to act responsibly and ensure that libel does not occur and that -all-sides- have the right to respond to allegations. Control of information by the State is not good practice as history has proven.

Yes it is important that slanderous material is curtailed, but to legislate a one-sided perspective is wrong. These laws, coupled with the proposed fading of live television coverage of the proceedings of the House of Assembly to black, are wrong at this stage of our development. It is inappropriate and represents a great leap backwards.

As the National Citizen's Coalition in Canada noted when gag laws were proven unconstitutional in Alberta, Canada, we hope this "will convince the federal Liberals to rethink their own ill-considered election law."

Hopefully our political leaders will do the same and avoid this apparent trend toward press censorship and the curbing of free speech.

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