September 06, 2010

Margaret Atwood, censor

Political thick-headedness from someone who ought to know better:

Margaret Atwood is criticizing Stephen Harper over what she sees as his dictatorial approach to regulating the airwaves.

The literary icon has signed an online petition aimed at keeping a “Fox News North” channel off the air in Canada. But it’s not the idea of a right-wing television station she’s objecting to. Rather, the prolific and celebrated writer doesn’t like the Prime Minister’s style of governing.

“Of course Fox & Co. can set up a channel or whatever they want to do, if it's legal etc.,” she told The Globe and Mail in an email. “But it shouldn't happen this way. It's like the head-of-census affair – gov't direct meddling in affairs that are supposed to be arm's length – so do what they say or they fire you.

“It's part of the ‘I make the rules around here,’ Harper-is-a-king thing,” she wrote.

[Full Story]

On August 31, Atwood tweeted that she had signed a petition to the CRTC to disallow Sun Media a license for a new news channel: "Yikes! Canadians wld be forced to pay for this? Not!" As the Globe article indicates, her real motivation is ostensibly because she doesn't like the process by which this channel is being imposed.

Fair enough. But the Web page the petition is on betrays a considerably different motivation: "Stop Fox News North," it says. It calls Sun's news station - which has yet to broadcast a single second of news - "American-style hate media," "hate-filled propaganda," and a "nightmare." (Ironically this petition, circulated under the auspices of, which was co-founded by, the hard-left advocacy group that funds Democratic candidates in the United States, encourages the CRTC to "stand up for Canadian democratic traditions.")

It appears that whatever Atwoods own motives may be for signing this petition, the motives of the petitioners themselves are quite different: censorship of opposing viewpoints. Atwood herself has been the target of censorship attempts: her fine novel The Handmaid's Tale is one of the most frequently challenged books in American libraries. So why is she lending her good name to the efforts of Internet activists to censor opinions they don't like? Worse, she's a writer. Is a signature on an inflammatory Internet petition the most persuasive argument for her position that Atwood is capable of?

Fortunately, this is an Internet petition, so no one who matters will take notice.

By the way, to be consistent, Atwood must also support the privatization of the CBC, which all Canadians must pay for whether they want it or not. Correct?

Even prominent public intellectuals are not incapable of the occasional brain fart, so this particular controversy seemed like a good occasion to resurrect the DIM BULB du jour, awarded to those who are able to grab the public spotlight, then abuse the privilege by saying or doing something stupid.

Tell you what, Mags: I'm going to petition our public library to remove your books from the shelves. But it's not the idea of feminist CanLit I'm objecting to. Rather, I don't like your style of protesting.