What is truth? Pontius Pilate is famously portrayed asking that question in the New Testament. Unbeknownst to many, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications (CRTC)Â is also mandated to answer that question if called upon — though, thankfully, itÂ hasn’t yet.
More of us now know about thisÂ dueÂ to a move by a Senate-House of Commons committee to revise a regulation that enjoins the CRTC to assure the truth of media news content. To bring this regulation into line with the Supreme Courtâ€™s interpretation of the Charterâ€™s free speech clause, itâ€™s been proposed to change the wording so that media news outlets are only restricted from knowingly communicating falsehoods.
This is pretty sensible. To be sure, one can imagine some libertarians willing toÂ contemplate whether the government should be proscribing the conveying of news even when its subject matter is known to be false by the communicator.Â Against this, a compelling argument can be made that media outlets supplying news programming effectively promise their consumers to relate the facts as best they can. So any consciously intended violation of this promise constitutes fraud. And from the classical liberal perspective, deterringÂ fraud via penalty is one of the proper objects of government.
Alas, two NDP members of Parliament, Charlie Angus and Thomas Mulcair, have protested the proposed regulatory change. They espy a move afoot to ensure that SunTV News, a new channel set to premiere this spring, will be able to freely spout lies. They are alarmed at the prospect of SunTV News being able to foul the airwaves in mimicry of Fox News and American talk radio. Heather Mallick of the Toronto Star is similarlyÂ concerned.
Without getting into the issue of whether Fox News and American talk radio are messengers of falsehood, Mallick et al need to remember that nobody is entitled to a political monopoly over truth. This is not to deny that human reason is capable of grasping truth. We Austrians are the last to accept the relativism implied in Pontius Pilateâ€™s question. But human nature being what it is, reason is susceptible to biases flowing from emotion, conflicts of interest, ingrained habits, and fixed mind sets. Hence, our beliefs must always be open to scrutiny and debate. Persuasion, rather than force, must be theÂ weapon of choiceÂ in the battle against falsity.
Weâ€™ll give Ludwig von Mises the last word:
Against what is stupid, nonsensical, erroneous, and evil, liberalism fights with the weapons of the mind, and not with brute force and repression (Liberalism in The Classical Tradition, Ch. 12).