By Dave Brindle
Lost in all of the hum online about Egypt and the CRTC was that 2011 is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Marshall McLuhan.
When I tweeted that, my friend Rod Mickleburgh of The Globe and Mail shot back:
@davebrindleshow mcluhan was certainly right when he gave my mother an A on her eng lit masters essay for him, on ulysses…
@davebrindleshow she also had northrop frye as a prof that year…my mom was amazing….she went back for her MA at 46….
See that? That’s how participatory journalism works. A great story in six lines and a click. That’s the sort of thing McLuhan saw coming.
It’s ironic that we’re celebrating 100 years of McLuhan even as Canada has been engaged in an electronic revolt. Two, actually. One stirred up the net — on Facebook and Twitter — so much that Prime Minister Stephen Harper, sensing the will of a young demographic that might rally against him in an imminent election, acquiesced to opposition over the CRTC’s decision on user-based billing.
The second, less noisy, is in response to that same CRTC’s decision to loosen the reins on “false news.” A revision to current legislation would allow for pretty much anything to be broadcast that doesn’t “endanger the lives, health or safety of the public” — this supposedly in reaction to concerns that the current, more restrictive wording wouldn’t survive a challenge under the Charter of Rights.
But as The Globe‘s TV critic John Doyle writes:
“While there is an argument to be made that language of CRTC regulations on ‘news’ and ‘truth’ must conform to the law of the land, there is no authentic need to open up this can of worms.
” . . . What does it all mean? Say hello to the likely rantings and ravings of the upcoming SUN TV News channel . . . . What it means is not that the government has seen the future — the success of a right-wing TV news channel is an unknown — but it has posited the kind of future it would like to see in TV news and punditry.”
Which in turn means that the worms are already out of the can. If the government, through the CRTC, can legislate truth and news on TV, the precedent exists to impose the same on the internet.
That should concern us. The internet is messy. And god knows the perception exists that it needs tidying up. As Langara College journalism instructor Ross Howard is quoted saying in the brand-spanking new thedependent.ca:
“Online is just another form of presenting the same info quicker, more accessibly and with greater feedback and diversity of sources . . . . Unfortunately, the Web by itself provides no answer or relief from this ignorance driven by corporate imperatives and near-drowning in the info-tsunami we’re facing, because blogs and Facebook and Twitter etc. provide extraordinary diversity and interactivity but absolutely no reliability.”
I’d challenge that bit about reliability. Ask the people of Egypt which was more reliable: the regime or the internet? The network is reliable in that it never loses its voice, fluidity, fairness, free expression of ideas and opinions, and sense of justice — the very essence of democracy. And if an open democracy isn’t reliable, what on earth is?
It’s true, however, that the same engine that can organize through disorganization can also be retooled and used to quickly reorganize into factions and agendas. That’s what’s happened in the UBB debate, which has become too complicated and fractured to remain of interest to anyone other than special interest groups and the telecorps. The inherent strength of the internet’s global democracy is also its weakness. The network doesn’t have leadership nor does it follow a plan. That makes it more vibrant than the geezer media, but also a lot more anarchic.
McLuhan warned us this wasn’t going to be easy. As I said: He was right.
Adapted from an essay that originally appeared on davebrindle.blogspot.com