Monday, July 21, 2008

Honest Belief and Free Speech

The Globe and Mail reports on a judgement made by the Supreme Court of Canada concerning free speech.

The Supreme Court ruled 9-0 that Rafe Mair, a Vancouver radio broadcaster and WIC Radio Ltd. are not guilty of libel in a suit brought over comments denouncing Kari Simpson's book-banning stand. The court found that Mair did not defame Simpson, who claims to be an advocate of Christian values. Simpson's public support of the Surrey school board's banning of three book depicting same-sex parents was criticized by Mair in such a way that he compared her views to attitudes of Nazi Germany and the Ku Klux Klan. Mr. Mair said that Ms. Simpson's views on the book banning,
...took me back to my childhood, when with my parents, we would listen to bigots who with increasing shrillness would harangue the crowds. For Kari's 'homosexual,' one could easily substitute 'Jew.' I could see Governor Wallace - in my mind's eye I could see Governor Wallace of Alabama standing on the steps of a schoolhouse shouting to the crowds that no Negroes would get into Alabama schools as long as he was governor. It could have been blacks last Thursday night just as easily as gays.

The court set terms for what it determined was "honest belief" -- whether an honest person would hold the same belief or opinion. This frees the media from living in fear of a libel suit whenever provocative issues are raised. The legal test to determine "honest belief" includes:

  • The comment must be on a matter of public interest.

  • It must be based on fact.

  • Although it can include inferences of fact, the comment must be recognizable as comment.

  • It must be capable of satisfying the question: Could any person honestly express that opinion on the proved facts?

Judge Binnie commented,
We live in a free country, where people have as much right to express outrageous and ridiculous opinions as moderate ones. In much modern media, personalities such as Rafe Mair are as much entertainers as journalists.

Judge Binnie also made room for satirists and cartoonists who create caricatures of points of view. "Their function is not so much to advance public debate, as it is to exercise a democratic right to poke fun at those who huff and puff in the public arena. This is well understood by the public to be their function."

Read the full judgement.

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