The Ottawa Citizen
Saturday, March 30, 1997
page B6

Censorship in Spicer's own words

by Peter Calamai,

The Canadian Library Association today announced its intention to comply with the wishes of millions of Canadians who had signed a petition decrying the increasing presence of ``vivid imagery of sex and violence'' in books targeted at children.

The problem, say most busy parents, is that kids can visit the local library and borrow anything they choose, regardless of their family's values.

The new book rating system, modeled after television's highly successful V-chip, has been dubbed the V-bar code, because each book will have a machine-readable bar code on the spine that encodes a rating of the book's contents on several scales: sex, violence, coarse language, drug use, religion, and alternative lifestyles.

Under the new system, parents will select their family's ``tolerance levels'' on each scale. These are encoded as a bar code on their child's library card. When a child wants to borrow a book, the librarian simply passes the library card and book over a scanner and a screen instantly displays whether authorization should be granted.

The free-speech activists at Electronic Frontier Canada want ridicule to kill the Faustian bargain of the V-chip -- the Censorchip -- that Keith Spicer has foisted on Canada. It won't work because most Canadians don't appreciate the real threat behind this continental mind control. Fortunately, we have an expert witness who does -- Keith Spicer:
``What is censorship? It's one authority -- state, party, church -- deciding what will enter the minds of weaker others. In the censor's view, such mind control proceeds from rational, even praiseworthy, intentions; it aims for the common good, a higher good, the good of the censored.

``And always, you may be sure, for the good of the censor. As an instrument of power, censorship by definition serves to entrench power.

``Two devilish refinements in this policing of minds: the inadequacy of all censors, and the inevitable capture of censoring power by small but strident lobbies.''

Spicer wrote those words in January 1987, in a column (for this newspaper) marking the death of Margaret Laurence, an author hounded by small-minded censors throughout her life. But the newspaper columnist who could see the mote of censorship elsewhere then somehow became the television regulator who cannot detect the beam in his own eye.

Definition applied to V-chip

Consider the V-chip by Spicer's own definition of censorship:

One authority deciding --
The V-chip is imposed by a CRTC order (No. 1996-36) which sets deadlines, assigns legal responsibility, and even mandates alternate censorship means.

What will enter the minds of weaker others --
Spicer defends the censorchip by saying the primary target is children 11 years or younger; in fact, everyone other than the person with control of the chip is subject to censorship, no matter their age.

Such mind control aims for the good of the censored --
``Parents ... have told us they want further action to protect their children against gratuitous and glamorized TV violence.'' Spicer, quoted in a March 14 CRTC news release.

Censorship by definition serves to entrench power --
Broadcasting, already more tightly controlled for content here than anywhere else in the Western world, has now given the CRTC one more regulatory club.

So by Keith Spicer's own test, the V-chip is definitely censorship. But worse is what Spicer called a ``devilish refinement.'' You see, many Canadians watch shows from the United States, the land of Pat Buchanan and the Moral Majority, the land of ``small but strident lobbies.'' And it is the Americans who will encode each of those shows with the ratings for ``vivid imagery of sex and violence'' that trigger the V-chip to blank your TV screen.

What do you think will be first to go? To Kill a Mockingbird for its lynch-mob scene, or maybe Macbeth, for the slaughter of all MacDuff's pretty ones. Thanks to Chairman Keith's self-righteous censorchip campaign, we've surrendered our cultural sovereignty to a nation where the teaching of evolution is banned by a state legislature.

Nope, it would never work as satire. Not believable enough.

Copyright © 1996 by the Ottawa Citizen. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission.