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.

Just Posted

Veterans’ Affairs minister sits down with Kelowna vets

Seamus O’Regan said government changes are improving benefits for Canada’s veterans

Okanagan tourists undeterred by smoke

Diverse array of tourist experiences paying dividends

Stream of federal Liberal ministers and MPs to pass through Kelowna this week

In addition to ministers making announcements, the Pacific Liberal caucus will meet in the city

Crews continue mop up at Gottfriedsen Mountain wildfire

Firefighters are working alongside the military to extinguish the wildfire near West Kelowna

Organized labour’s annual Labour Day picnic slated for Sept. 3 in Kelowna

The North Okanagan Labour Council will host the event in Mission Creek Park

UPDATE: Air quality improves slightly

Breathing conditions are improving, though still not ideal

White Spot records B.C. Pirate Pak record day

Popular B.C.-Alberta event raises more than $116,000 to send kids and adults to Zajac Ranch

Evacuation alert for Dark Lake Valley area

There are 21 properties are affected

B.C. team stays alive in Little League World Series after another nail-biter

Surrey-based squad scored a 6-4 win over Mexico reps in Williamsport on Monday

Kids, seniors at risk as smoke from distant fires hangs over parts of B.C.

B.C. Centre for Disease Control says children’s lungs don’t fully develop until about age 10

B.C. mother charged in 7-year-old daughter’s death appears in court

The 36-year-old mother, of Langley’s Aaliyah Rosa, has been charged with second-degree murder

Troops heading to Lumby/Cherryville to lend a hand with wildfires

Canadian Armed Troops expected to be in the area by the end of the week

Thieves target tires and rims in Shuswap

Salmon Arm RCMP report two recent incidents, a van used in one theft was stolen in Surrey

VIDEO: Teen soccer phenomenon Alphonso Davies to visit B.C. kids camp

The 17-year-old Vancouver Whitecap player is one of the youngest players in MLS history

Most Read