Harper government wants unfettered access to media clips for attack ads
By Patrick Vaillancourt, Senior Columnist
Formerly published in The Other Press. October 20, 2014
If you are an avid watcher of Canadian politics, you may be asking yourself: “What happened to all the attack ads against Justin Trudeau?” I was wondering that myself a few days ago, and came across some startling findings.
It seems broadcasters have had enough of the Conservative Party’s attack ads. Not because of the nature of the ads themselves, but rather, because of who owns some of the content prominently featured in those advertisements.
For years, the Conservative advertising machine has demolished successive Liberal leaders. It began with Stéphane Dion, then Michael Ignatieff. Now, a year away from the next expected federal election, the Conservatives are trailing in the polls and it seems that attack ads meant to steer voters away from Justin Trudeau have failed. If you believe the polls, Trudeau is poised to lead the Liberals to a historic comeback to the government benches once election night comes to a close.
This has the Conservatives scrambling to find a way to discredit the Liberal leader. After years of allowing political parties to broadcast attack ads on national airwaves, the major Canadian broadcasters got together to let all political parties know that they are calling a halt to it, saying they will not air advertisements that feature clips of their own broadcasts for political purposes without the express consent of the copyright holder. That means, should Trudeau make a gaffe during a CBC interview (as he did with the CF-18 story), the Conservatives would need to get the CBC’s permission to use the media clip in a political ad.
In response, the Harper government is planning to change the Copyright Act to remove “the need for broadcasters to authorize the use of their news content.” Does the Conservative Party actually want to suggest stealing the intellectual property of Canadian television stations, which own clips and broadcast interviews that are widely used to attack other party leaders in the media? It’s a double standard, which, if passed, will allow a political party to use a clip without consent, develop an ad, and send it right back to the broadcaster they stole from to have it aired nationally. Talk about insult to injury.
As a writer, I’m very passionate about intellectual property, and have an interest in preserving my rights as a producer of content. If I were producing content with the expectation that someone could just take it without my knowledge or authorization, there isn’t much of an incentive for me to produce high-quality writing. Why make the job easier for the thief?
That is exactly what could happen in political punditry. Fearing that a segment may be used for an attack ad, journalists may stop asking the tough questions we demand answers to from our elected leaders, opting instead to have the safe conversations that couldn’t possibly be featured in a smear campaign.
These copyright changes are more than just legalizing the theft of intellectual property; it will lead to a kind of censorship in journalism this country cannot afford to have.