I’m an Optimist

I’m an optimist.  Let me explain why.  Somewhere around two and half millennia ago, the Greeks (Athenians, actually) discovered this really cool thing.  They found out that Mother Nature had structured the world in such a way that everything was in balance.  They realized that if there was a hot, there was a cold.  If there was wet, there was dry; hard, soft; rough, smooth, etc. etc.   They also discovered that Mother Nature likes it that way.  Man (women weren’t included in those days) could change the balance of things, if he wanted to, but only for a little while.  The resulting imbalance never lasted very long because it made Mother Nature really angry and she would move heaven and earth (literally) to make things right again.  For example, the reason we have all this weirdo weather right now — rain, snow, wind, hurricanes, tornados, and on and on and on — is because Mother Nature is trying to get all the crap we’ve been putting into the air, out of it — so we can breathe.  It’s that simple.

The Greeks went on to apply this curious little balancing act to people.  They found out that no matter how stupid people get, there’re always one or two smart ones around to put a stop to it.  This is good to know.  It gives you faith in the human race.  It tells you that just about the time you think the Dark Forces of Ignorance are about to finally overpower common sense and you might just as well shoot yourself in the head — don’t do it.  Somebody, somewhere will look up from Dancing with America’s Funniest Home Idol, turn off the TV, and say, “Wait a minute!  That’s stupid.  Stop it!”  There’ll be a brief pause.  The Dark Forces of Ignorance will grumble around for a while, and things will get back to normal.  We’ve never actually flushed ourselves into the sewers of stupidity.  We’ve come close a couple of times, but up to this point, we’ve never actually done it.

A perfect example of this happened last week.  As you may or may not know, the CRTC (Canadian Radio and Television Commission) wanted to change the rules (or “amend” the regulations) concerning what constitutes news in this country.  You can read about it (here), but in case you don’t want to, this is the gist of it.
“This ‘amendment’ would mean that the news doesn’t necessarily have to be true anymore — as long as the broadcaster thinks it’s true.  So, as long as the media doesn’t knowingly broadcast something that is ‘false or misleading,’ they can do as they please. … The operative word here is ‘knowingly.’  What it means is that something can be reported as the truth if the journalist believes it’s true; factual corroboration is no longer necessary.”
Every Canadian knew the CTRC was being stupid.  One of the few things that separates us from our American cousins is we like our news bland, and we like it to be true.  We don’t go in for National Enquirer sensationalism; we read that for entertainment.  No, we want to know Where, When, What, Who and how many died.  We can figure out Why all by ourselves.  The problem was, not very many Canadians even knew the CRTC was about to change the rules.  The very people who are supposed to be reporting the news to Canadians weren’t doing their job.  Fortunately, though, a few Canadians did know what the CRTC was up to and made their feelings known.  The CRTC, in an uncharacteristic move, did as they were told and didn’t “amend” the regulation.  We stood on the brink of stupid and backed away because enough Canadians said, “Wait a minute!  That’s stupid.  Stop it!”

I’m an optimist.  Like the Greeks, I think Mother Nature and human nature have a lot in common.  I think there needs to be a balance in our society.  I also think we forget that sometimes and go off drinking with the Dark Forces of Ignorance.  Luckily, though, there always seems to be somebody who calls us to book on that, and after a little grumbling, we get back to normal.

I was only one of the people who complained to the CRTC.  But I knew there would be others, ‘cause I’m an optimist.

The Rule of Truth

I’m a child of the 60s: I love a good demonstration, and I’m an absolute sucker for a riot.  No cheap perfume excites me more than that first whiff of teargas, and, as far as I’m concerned, the erotic beat of batons on riot shields is way more suggestive than any burlesque trumpet solo.  But civil disobedience is a young person’s game, so, these days, I’m content to watch it all on TV.  For a while there, my cup runneth over – Tunisia, Egypt, a couple of shots of Yemen, Iran? – I’m a happy guy.  But just when I thought it was safe to kick back, munch some Doritos and watch  Cooper Anderson Anderson Cooper and Wolf Blitzer shape American foreign policy and the Arab Revolution on CNN, some guy I’ve never heard of wants to screw it all up.

Here’s the situation.  As usual, with government problems, it’s all totally complicated and scattered across at least three different departments.  Nobody really knows what’s actually going on — or why — and there are several interpretations, but in simple speak, this is what’s happening.

In Canada, we have a rule.  It says that the news has to be true.  Most people don’t know this.  They think the truth comes naturally to journalists, or it happens by magic or something, or it’s just the way of the world.  No, folks, none of the above — and that’s why we have a rule.  It’s written down.  It’s a good rule.  Basically, it’s there, so guys like Neil Macdonald and Craig Oliver can’t go Glenn Beck insane and say Stephen Harper is Lucifer’s brother.  They can insinuate it all they want, but they can’t report it as news — unless they can back it up with evidence of horns and a tail.  Canadian news must be factual.  It’s very simple.  If it’s not a provable fact, it can’t be reported as news.  In other words, opinion, hearsay, gossip and downright lies are not news, and they can’t be reported as such.  I think everybody would agree that this is a wise rule that serves our country well.

Apparently, not so much, because — believe it or not — the junta that controls the media in Canada, the CRTC (Canadian Radio and Television Commission) has recently decided to change the rule.  There’s a whole bunch more blah, blah, blah, but, in essence, what they want to do is “amend” the regulation.  This “amendment” would mean that the news doesn’t necessarily have to be true anymore — as long as the broadcaster thinks it’s true.  So, as long as the media doesn’t knowingly broadcast something that is “false or misleading,” they can do as they please.  (There’s some other crap about not causing people harm, but that’s like slapping someone you just shot in the face.  Who cares?)  The operative word here is “knowingly.”  What it means is that something can be reported as the truth if the journalist believes it’s true; factual corroboration is no longer necessary.  Hypothetically, if a journalist was told by several sources he believed to be reliable that Jack Layton was having an affair with Belinda Stronach, he can report it that way.  Jack and Belinda can defend themselves later.  My outrage at this little tidbit of news is real but I’m really outraged that so few journalists saw fit to report this to the Canadian public.

 One of the cornerstones of journalism — besides distinguishing fact from fiction — is journalists think they’re sexy.  They all think they’re hard-boiled reporters, tracking down the big story, exposing corruption and injustice.  They’re also bone-ass lazy.  Sitting through a boring afternoon of CRTC hearings, while some nameless bureaucrat cuts the guts out of the public trust, is not what they’re going to do.  Nor are they going to spend hours reading through transcripts, checking the facts.  They’d much rather hang out with each other, awash in self importance, playing with their Blackberrys.  And this is what bugs me.  That nameless bureaucrat is about to give a free hand to the very people who shouldn’t have it.  Journalists have one purpose on earth: tell the general public the truth.  Their only job is to cut through the spin and tell me what’s actually going on.  In recent history, they’ve gone just about as far away from that purpose as is humanly possible without leaving Earth’s orbit.  So why would some faceless, nameless, brainless government stickperson water down the only rule that governs them?

The reason Wolf and what’s-his-lastname go in for endless analysis is that it’s easy.  It’s not in-depth reporting; it’s off the cuff yakking, with some low-grade speculation thrown in.  It’s funBut hard news isn’t.  Hard news is wading through city council meetings, looking for the inconsistencies.  Hard news is finding the one fact that doesn’t fit the spin and building a story from there.  Hard news is doing all the work I don’t want to do because I’m buckled up with my Doritos, laughing my ass off at CNN trying to fill time between their commercials.  Most importantly, hard news is reporting to the Canadian public that they’re not going to get any hard news anymore, so they might as well stick with CNN.  Oh, and by the way could you name the nameless bureaucrat so at least I know who spoiled my evening’s entertainment?