Thaw In Libel Chill?

Canadian journalists haven't had much to celebrate in the last 15 years or so, what with all the downsizing, cross-ownership and erosion of financial stability due to the proliferation of free information sources on the Internet (many of them cribbed from legit news outlets). Nutbars that we are, we think there's immense value in what we do. Plenty of other people would presumably agree. There is a segment of society, however, for whom an understaffed and overworked press is heaven-sent. This summer I interviewed former CBC radio and TV broadcaster Mary-Lou Finlay (pictured) prior to her appearance at the Festival of Words in Moose Jaw. In response to a question about whether it served the purpose of political and economic elites in Canada to have a weakened CBC, she replied "I've talked to people in every political party [that's held power in Ottawa] and without exception, they say their leaders hated the CBC because of the accountability it imposed on them. But if they're honest, they have to recognize that the whole system works better if you have a healthy broadcasting environment."

Greater resources for media outlets are definitely one part of that equation. Another, in Canada anyway, is the freedom to do solid investigative journalism. Under existing libel laws, journalists could be sued for anything they wrote/published/broadcast that damaged another person's reputation. If sued, the onus was on the journalist to prove the truth of their statement. In legal circles, that's what's known as a reverse onus provision. In a typical court case, it's up to the plaintiff to prove their claim. Not so with libel law, where journalists were generally required to prove their innocence.

Recognizing the importance of a vigorous and vigilant press, other countries like the U.S. and Australia provided journalists with a defence to libel if they genuinely believed, based on the research they'd done and interviews they'd conducted, that the story they did was true. In Canada, that defence was not possible -- until today, that is, when the Supreme Court of Canada, in separate libel cases against the Ottawa Citizen and Toronto Star, ruled that the defence of "responsible communication" should be available to journalists to defend themselves against libel actions.

That doesn't mean that journalists now have carte blanche to shred anyone they want. But under the old law, media outlets often shied away from controversial stories involving powerful individuals and organizations out of fear that if they ran them they would be sued for libel and possibly bankrupted by a lucrative judgment against them. "Libel chill" is the term used to describe that situation. And in its judgement today, the Supreme Court said that impacted negatively on the public interest by unduly infringing on freedom of expression.

Good for them. Here's the CBC report here.

Draw your own conclusions

Look, if Wall Street is comfortable having a galactic despot with an abysmal record on human (and non-human) rights, labour relations, and planet-crushing perform their creepy ritualistic bell-ringing, that's really between them and their Masonic overlords.

It's hard to tell which disgraced institution is trying to piggy back on the supposed good image of the other. Is it the one that recently destroyed millions of Americans' dreams and hopes for the future, or is it Wall Street?

Our PM Problem

Dear Santa, can I have a new prime minister for Christmas?

Calling Stephen Harper a dangerous extremist who's ruining our country is a popular thing to do on Dog Blog for a couple of reasons: first, we naively think pointing out the man's problems might encourage Tory-loving Sask voters to take a closer look at him and second because the guy's actions and ideas scare the crap out of us.

Anyway, lest you perceive us as radicals, here are the strong words of accomplished journalist and columnist Haroon Siddiqui , who gave the Minifie lecture at the University of Regina a few years back:

Stephen Harper is centralizing power in the PMO on an unprecedented scale; defying Parliament (by refusing to comply with a Commons vote demanding the files on Afghan prisoner abuse); derailing public inquiries (by a parliamentary committee and the Military Police Complaints Commission); muzzling/firing civil servants; demonizing critics; and dragging the military into the line of partisan political fire.

"When you add up all that this government has done, it's truly scary," says Gar Pardy, former head of the foreign ministry's consular services. He's the one who organized the petition that defended diplomat Richard Colvin from Tory mudslinging, and which has been signed by 133 retired ambassadors.

You can read the whole column here. Please do--it's worth your time. Stephen Harper is baaad--and it's not just prairie dog saying that. (Toronto Star)

12 Days of Christmas: Gremlins

It's Christmas and what better than the perfect gift.

"Cute. Clever. Mischievous. Intelligent. Dangerous."

Randall Peltzer (Hoyt Axton) buys a gift for his son Zach Galligan in an old dark shop in Chinatown while visiting Manhattan. It's a small cute furry creature that's called a mogwai (which in Cantonese translates literally as "monster"). There are rules for caring for a mogwai. Don't get him wet, keep him out of bright light, and never feed him after midnight. Naturally all the rules get broken and then the fun begins.

Director Joe Dante (Piranha, The Howling) brings this black comedy to the big screen with his usual in jokes and a combination of horrific and comedic elements. There's lots of biting, clawing, intentional accidents, death by microwave, decapitations, general mass destruction and a quick pit stop in all the chaos to watch a little Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

This movie along with Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was responsible for the creation of PG-13 rating in the U.S. Both films are a little too violent for PG (which they were both rated) and no where near an R-rating.

Pick of the Day: Agonal

When we think of Christmas music we usually think of feel-good tunes with copious references to snow, holiday decorations, tasty treats, presents and all-round fellowship and good cheer. Yeah, there's the odd song out there like AC DC's yuletide classic "Mistress for Christmas" (YouTube). But they're few and far between. Considering that retailers, radio stations, churches and whatnot start flogging Xmas music shortly after Hallowe'en these days, there's a not inconsiderable number of people out there, I imagine, who have pretty much had their fill of Christmas music by now. If you fall into that category, have I got a show for you.

It's happening tonight at O'Hanlon's Pub. It features local headbangers Agonal backed up by Saskatoon metalmeisters Lavagoat, and is billed as a Metal Xmas Show. Formed from the remnants of two stalwarts of Regina's metal scene, Dirtbred and Scarifier, Agonal takes its name from the medical term for the slow cessation of breathing in a person as death overakes them. Having recently been at the bedside of an elderly relative when she passed away I could elaborate on that process. But I won't, other than to note that in her instance it was peaceful and pain-free. And if you're looking for another blast of metal Xmas music, here's Twisted Sister's "Oh Come All Ye Faithful" (YouTube)