In return for its guaranteed freedom, however, the media has obligations, one of which is to investigate and report honestly. This isn’t always easy. A paper that features the dangers and abuses of infant formula in third world countries might lose advertising contracts from the makers of infant formula. An online journal that probes too deeply into the affairs of city council also runs the risk of losing legitimate advertising revenue.
The Washington Post, in what was probably history’s best example of investigative journalism, brought down Richard Nixon and the Republicans over Watergate. Freedom to post on Facebook or Twitter helped fuel the Arab Spring, and the overthrow of some dictatorships and, perhaps, the birth of democracy there. However, some of these dictatorships want Facebook and Twitter not to carry any pro-democracy messages – Twitter, at least, is considering bowing down to these threats.
Democracy cannot function if the electorate cannot be adequately informed through an unbiased media. Free speech and free expression of ideas are good – deliberate deception is the opposite. The oil industry and its allies, in their promotion of climate change denial, damage more than the environment – they are stealing the very foundation of democracy and freedom.
Censorship in Canada?
Throughout most of 2010, “Ethical Oil” was merely a myth in the mind of Ezra Levant. It immediately drew heavy criticism not only from economists and environmental experts, but also from the oil industry itself. Perhaps the most telling comment from this critique is that “ethical energy is energy that reaches the starving, not the obese.”
Getting the “Ethical Oil” myth to become an accepted term was a hard fought but well-conceived campaign. To be successful, the myth had to be pushed overwhelmingly onto the public, both in Canada and in the US, where it was hoped to sell more Tar Sands bitumen.
The Sun chain of newspapers came to the rescue. First of all, in September, 2011, it published extensive extracts from the book in many of its outlets across Canada. In these extracts it attacked Saudi Arabia, environmentalists, and proponents of green-energy jobs, while defending the Alberta government and the Canadian oil industry. As usual for Levant, he has trouble attacking the actual arguments themselves, so using the skills he has learned as both a lawyer and an expert debater, he attacks the people or organisations involved.
A week later, these same papers published his attack on Greenpeace, which had already disproved his opinions. He makes accusations that Greenpeace is second only to PETA for outrageous stunts that erode their credibility but enhance their PR. PETA, incidentally, has alleged links to the Animal Rights Front, considered a terrorist organisation, so therefore, through Levant’s innuendo, so does Greenpeace.
Levant’s comments about Greenpeace do have some merit, in that they do tend to engage in some “outrageous stunts” to gain publicity. But then again, so does Levant, especially with his anti-Muslim diatribes. However, throw enough mud and some of it tends to stick, and the Sun chain did not allow for any Greenpeace rebuttal of his accusations. All this is in keeping, of course, with the laws of propaganda, of which Levant is such an accomplished master – only tell the half of the truth that serves the cause, and never let the other side contradict or tell their side.
After the book’s publication, it was time for the Harper Government to use this convenient myth in its battle to change reality. Government environment spokesman Peter Kent fired the first round in January 2011 with a promise to clean up the Tar Sand’s image. (Not the Tar Sands themselves, of course, just their image). Since that time, the Ethical Oil myth has become part of the Harper Government’s everyday vocabulary.
Conservative Senator Nicole Eaton started a Senate inquiry into “Canada’s oilsands, the world’s most ethical source of oil.” (Perhaps the US, the UK and Norway are no longer ethical). The Alberta Wildrose Party and the Alberta Conservatives were also quick to endorse the Ethical Oil myth.
CAPP members have been pulling out all the stops with their advertising, trying to persuade viewers that there is nothing wrong with what most people consider not ethical, but dirty oil.
If one examines the relationship between Sun Media and Ezra Levant, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and Big Oil in general, and the Harper Government, one finds some very disturbing connections. Basically these organisations are all acting together in a well-coordinated plan to dupe the Canadian public (and also other countries such as the US and EU), into accepting that the dirtiest oil in the world is actually ethical, whereas the much cleaner OPEC oil is not.
This is an ethical debate for which there is no right answer. OPEC oil is not ethical, especially when looked at from a political and human rights perspective. Equally, the Tar Sands are no more ethical when looked at from an environmental, economic and human rights perspective. There is no winner (except possibly Levant, laughing all the way to the bank with his royalty cheques), only losers. The first losers are the people in Saudi Arabia and other OPEC countries, who will likely never see their human rights despite Levant’s crocodile tears. Then there are the people of Canada, who are being forced to give away resources to the government of Communist China. Finally, there is the world as a whole, which will have to deal with the climate change caused by our complete dependence on fossil fuels.
However, Canadians are losers in another important aspect. Canada, in theory, has freedom of the press – Ezra Levant is free to rant, and others are free to take him to task. But do Canadians have freedom to get all the truth? Given the echo chamber created by Levant and Sun News, CAPP, and the Harper Government, where only news favourable to CAPP and the Tar Sands tends to be published nationwide, this is a vital question.
Sun News, however, is not the only Canadian media chain guilty of fawning to Harper. The Thompson family, which owns the Globe & Mail (“Canada’s National Newspaper”), is the richest in Canada. What is good for big corporations is good for them. In their April 27, 2011 editorial, a few days prior to the general election where 40% of Canadian voters gave Harper his Commons majority, they informed us that only Harper had the “leadership,” the “discipline” and the “bullheadedness” for the job. This opinion was despite earlier stories about him shutting down Parliament, his attacks on Medicare, etc.
Shaw Media controls Corus Entertainment and CanWest Media. It was Shaw that initially proposed a cap to internet downloads, i.e. making unlimited bandwith plans illegal. None of the opposition parties supported this, and with an election coming, the Harper Government put the idea on hold. Now that Harper is firmly in control, it’s all to their advantage to toe the government line on what the Canadian public sees and hears.
Bell Canada Enterprises owns, among others, CTV, and can thus control the news that many Canadians watch. Former environment minister Jim Prentice, who resigned from the Harper Government before the election, immediately became a Vice-President of CIBC. On July 11, 2011, Bell Canada Enterprises announced that he was to become a director of BCE Inc. and Bell Canada, becoming another Harper Government implant into the world of big business and national media.
Perhaps Canadians should stop and read the writing on the wall. The Harper Government has effectively taken control of all the national media, except the CBC (officially our “State Broadcaster”), which is now the only Canadian media outlet that can be relied upon to present the facts. Given that the CBC is constantly in Levant’s and his friends’ crosshairs, how much longer before Canada’s national media is totally under Harper’s control?