Taylor: Public takes priority over a client

It seems to me that publishers…have an obligation to stand behind what they distribute.

My first full-time job was at a struggling radio station in downtown Vancouver. In a desperate search for audiences, our programming bounced from British music hall, to contemporary jazz, to easy listening, to country.

But one audience remained constant. Sunday mornings, we turned the transmitter over to religion. Any kind of religion. Ernest Manning’s Back to the Bible. The Christian Reformed Church’s Back to God Hour, on the air for over 70 years now.

I recall programs from the Rosicrucians and the Theosophical Society. If you have no idea what these groups are, look ‘em up.

And two versions of British Israel.

British Israelism struck me as straddling fascism and racism. It claimed that the peoples of the British Isles constituted the Lost Ten Tribes of Israel, and that the English Monarch was directly descended from King David of Jerusalem. Somehow, a belief in Anglo-Saxon superiority morphed into virulent anti-Semitism, along with contempt for all non-fair-skinned peoples.

At least, that’s what I heard, as an involuntary listener.

“Why do we put this crap on the air?” I asked the program director.

“Because they’re willing to pay for the air time,” he shrugged.

I have trouble with that philosophy. It seems to me that publishers—of newspapers, magazines, books, or broadcasting stations—have an obligation to stand behind what they distribute to a credulous public.

That doesn’t mean censorship. Recently, some pressure groups wanted Rolling Stone to censor its cover story on accused Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev; they didn’t want to hear what might have caused an apparently intelligent young man to turn to terrorism.

Rather, it means ensuring that published material has been adequately researched, logically argued, and presented with some acknowledgement of differing viewpoints. While I was editor of Wood Lake Books, we published more than 100 titles. I didn’t agree with all of them, but I recall none that I couldn’t defend.

Simply because someone was willing to pay didn’t obligate me to publish ill-founded rants.

I don’t consider corporations to be “persons”—not until I hear of an entire corporation going to jail for fraud. But I believe that the same ethical principles that apply to individuals also apply to corporate bodies.

If I, as an individual, must accept responsibility for incorrect information I convey to others, so must a publisher, a broadcaster, an advertiser. Simply passing along misleading or erroneous material is no excuse.

A group of editors once debated being hired (hypothetically, of course) to edit Mein Kampf, Hitler’s magnum opus. Should we refuse the job? Take it and sabotage the project? Or take it and make the argument as clear and persuasive as possible?

Which comes first—the client or the public?

I know the usual mantra: “If I don’t do it, someone else will.”

Perhaps so. Perhaps some other firm will publish the book, broadcast the program, promote the product. My refusal won’t prevent it from happening.

But I still believe all of us must take responsibility for what we say, for what we help others say, and for what we repeat that others have said.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Armstrong’s Jesse Crowe, shown at the home of golf, St. Andrew’s in Scotland, has been named the Royal York Golf Course’s director of golf operations. (Facebook photo)
Armstrong golf pro soars to home course position

Jesse Crowe becomes director of golf operations at Royal York Golf Course

A nurse performs a test on a patient at a drive-in COVID-19 clinic in Montreal, on Wednesday, October 21, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson)
30 new COVID-19 cases, five more deaths in Interior Health

This brings the total number of cases to 7,271 since testing began

Interior Health officially declared a COVID-19 outbreak at Creekside Landing in Vernon on Jan. 3, which was followed by the first death from the virus 10 days later. (Kaigo photo)
Despite additional death, COVID outbreak over at Vernon care home

Creekside Landing cleared of coronavirus, despite additional loss in last day

Two North Okanagan-Shuswap rural communities, including Lumby, will receive B.C. government grants to support new jobs and economic opportunities to help them recover from the impacts of COVID-19. (Black Press file photo)
North Okanagan-Shuswap communities collect government grants

Lumby and Blind Bay to benefit to help recover from economic impact of COVID-19

Accelerate Okanagan has announced the six finalists for the 2021 OKGN Angel Summit. The remaining entrepreneurs will compete for a chance to receive a $145,000 investment in their business. (Eryca Stirling photo)
Finalists named for Okanagan entrepreneur summit

Accelerate Okanagan has named the final six competing entrepreneurs in the OKGN Angel Summit

Dr. Bonnie Henry talk about the next steps in B.C.'s COVID-19 Immunization Plan during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, January 22, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
456 new COVID-19 cases in B.C., 2 deaths

Since January 2020, 78,278 have tested positive for the novel coronavirus in B.C.

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)
Vaccinating essential workers before seniors in B.C. could save lives: experts

A new study says the switch could also save up to $230 million in provincial health-care costs

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

The late Michael Gregory, 57, is accused of sexually exploiting six junior high students between 1999 and 2005. (Pixabay)
Former Alberta teacher accused of sexually assaulting students found dead in B.C.

Mounties say Michael Gregory’s death has been deemed ‘non-suspicious’

According to a new poll, a majority of Canadians want to see illicit drugs decriminalized. (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Majority of Canadians think it’s high time to decriminalize illicit drugs: poll

More than two-times the B.C. residents know someone who died from an overdose compared to rest of Canada

Ranchero Deep Creek firefighters respond to a blaze involving two adjacent structures at a property off of Deep Creek Road on Sunday, Feb. 21. The buildings were believed to have been used as part of a cannabis growing operation, and RCMP are investigating. (Sean Coubrough/CSRD photo)
Ranchero Deep Creek firefighters respond to a blaze involving two adjacent structures at a property off of Deep Creek Road on Sunday, Feb. 21. The buildings were believed to have been used as part of a cannabis growing operation, and RCMP are investigating. (Sean Coubrough/CSRD photo)
Shuswap firefighters responding to structure blaze find cannabis grow operation

RCMP investigating, attempting to track down owner of property

(Stock photo)
EDITORIAL: The freedom to read

Books have been challenged many times in the past

Most Read