10.13.2014 11:07 AM

In Tuesday’s Sun: sorry, big media, but you don’t own every word that is uttered

The media are upset.

This isn’t a unique thing. It happens a lot. But what makes the latest controversy noteworthy is the subject-matter: an obscure change to Canadian copyright law, buried in a Conservative government omnibus bill. The proposed change would permit political parties to use material published and broadcast by news organizations for free in their ads.

CTV discovered the change, and many in the media are in high dudgeon about it. The Opposition parties, always hoping to curry favour with the media, say the change is “disrespectful” (the NDP’s Nathan Cullen) and “devious” (the Liberals’ Ralph Goodale).

Having crafted many, many an ad for the Liberal Party making use of broadcast clips or published reports, I laughed out loud at the professed indignation of Messrs. Cullen and Goodale. Both guys know that party operatives, of all stripes, have made use of media material in political advertising, for years.

There is a legal reason to justify the proposed change: there is no copyright in news. The presentation of it on the page or on the screen, maybe. But the actual newsworthy events? Forget it.

The media don’t possess a copyright over whatever issues from Stephen Harper’s mouth, nor any other politician. Those statements belong to the person who says them, and the public who receive them.

There is a political reason why all political parties are privately cheering on the Conservatives’ dastardly move, however. Madison Avenue’s Rosser Reeves, if he was here, could tell us all about it.

Reeves was the guy who conjured up modern political advertising.

Until Reeves came along, political salesmanship was a primitive process. Candidates for national office were obliged to submit themselves to grueling, months-long campaigns — travelling great distances by train, hollering themselves hoarse from makeshift platforms, grasping innumerable hands at innumerable rallies, and occasionally making use of radio to broadcast lengthy speeches listened to by only a few.

Reeves changed all that. He was a genius. “Certs breath mints — with a magic drop of retsyn.” And “How do you spell relief? R-O-L-A-I-D-S.” And “Wonder bread helps build strong bodies in eight ways.” And, perhaps most memorably of all, “M&Ms melt in your mouth, not in your hands.” Remember those? All Reeves.

He met with Republican bigwigs in 1952, because they were anxious about how to get General Eisenhower elected. Reeves gave them a way. He wrote a three-page memo, double spaced.

“Is there a new way of campaigning that can guarantee a victory for Eisenhower in November? The answer is: ‘Yes!’ what is this ‘new way of campaigning?’ This new way of campaigning, in essence is a new use of what advertising men know as ‘spots.’ A spot is an announcement on radio — or an announcement on television. THE HUMBLE RADIO OR TV ‘SPOT’ CAN DELIVER MORE LISTENERS FOR LESS MONEY THAN ANY OTHER FORM OF ADVERTISING. Let us repeat that. THE HUMBLE RADIO OR TV ‘SPOT’ CAN DELIVER MORE LISTENERS FOR LESS MONEY THAN ANY OTHER FORM OF ADVERTISING.”

What Reeves wrote in breathless prose, 62 years ago, still holds up. The best way to communicate with voters, then and now, is using a TV or radio spot that contains a damning bit of audio or video of your opponent. Or a stirring clip of your own leader, rallying the country. Or both.

Voters want to see and hear, on their own, what a politician says. That’s how they make important choices in elections. They don’t want the media’s analysis and bias – they want the video or audio proof.

That may upset media bean-counters, but too bad. The public statements of politicians belong to the public, not private media organizations.

And that’s why this change, while upsetting the media bosses, is good for democracy.


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    davie says:

    I don’t understand.
    If this is already done with impunity, then why legislate it? Especially, why bury it in an omnibus bill?
    Might it have to do with newer media? Hyper-targeting and the like?

    (On my facebook I am getting an ad from Conservatives with their patriarchal attack on JT suggesting Cons are adults and JT is a child. I’m not sure what I ever said anywhere that would encourage Conservatives to plop their ads on my fb page…but this high tech stuff is kind of a new frontier for ads of all kinds.) )

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      Matt says:

      You honestly think the it’s the Conservatives putting ads on your facebook page?

      Yout tin foil hat might be on too tight.

      Facebook ads are like Google advertising. they look at your browsing cookies/history and give you ads based on that.

      Visit a lot of political themed sites, you get political ads.

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      Tiger says:

      Why legislate it?

      Because right now it ends up in litigation. So even though it’ll end with a victory for the political party in the end, that’s a year or two later, long after the campaign.

      Like how the Liberals and the networks went up to the SCC in 1989 over use of Mulroney/Turner debate footage in ads in the 1988 campaign.

      Why bury it in an omnibus bill? Well, that’s the fastest way to get it done.

      (I know, process matters. The current governing party had lots to say about Liberal omnibus bills back in the early 2000s. Prediction: the next non-Conservative government will use/abuse omnibus legislation too.)

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      Tiger says:

      On that note, here’s Michael Geist making Kinsella’s point:

      “The truth is that the government and the broadcasters both agree that the current law already permits use without authorization. For all the claims of “theft”, the copyright owner (broadcasters) and user (political parties) both agree that the works can be used without further permission or payment. As Ariel Katz points out this morning, the bigger issue may well be whether Canada’s broadcasters violated the Competition Act by conspiring to not air perfectly lawful political advertisements.”

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    Bill MacLeod says:

    Hallelujah! Well said, Warren.

    I could go on, but there’s no need — you said it all!


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    Ron says:

    Stuffed in another omnibus bill by a government that stages most if its media content anyway, this measure seems harmless.

    But given the credibility level of The Harper Government™, it makes one wonder what they are really up to. And given
    their record of non-tranparency and unaccountability, it’s small wonder people are suspicious.

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    the salamander says:

    .. well .. we’ll certainly never see Stephen Harper ‘rallying the country’
    and who would want to own or possess what falls from his tongue?
    The man can barely speak coherently.. and bolting ‘the facts of the matter’
    words like ‘paramountcy’ or weaving ‘this, the, then, that, proudly, the, the, when, Canada’
    into some shambling vapid self congratulatory phony sound bite
    is simply that..

    His vaunted lawyers are far more succesful at speaking for him ..
    ‘the government has no special obligation to its military veterans’
    and went on to defend the facts of the matter as just politician talk
    Ruining, ranting, railing maybe… but rallying?
    That would imply some sort of leadership.. an exemplar.. inspiring
    Stephen Harper will never have those attributes..
    and that’s what makes him exactly what and who he is

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    Steve T says:

    Do you mean that the mainsteam media (you know, the “unbiased news” that scoff at Sun News) might actually inject some of their opinion into their stories? Say it ain’t so!

    It is funny how the media love to trot out things like Freedom Of Information, and Freedom Of The Press, but God forbid there is freedom to use what they broadcast.

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    Datasmith says:

    C’mon, Warren, you are an expert propagandist, so you know how easy it is to use “factual” material in misleading ways. That is exactly what Reeves and his tribe have been doing for over a century. Of course, the media shouldn’t have a right to treat news clips as proprietary material, but the problem is that when something from the CBC or the G&M appears as part of a political spot, the provenance lends extra credibility to the alleged facts involved. Of course it is ludicrous that anyone should give special credibility to these large media organs, but nonetheless, many people do exactly that. Therefore, the political propagandist who can best leverage this faux credibility in his misleading spots is the winner. One way to minimize this problem is to force the propagandists to re-state the alleged facts, in their own voices, rather than allowing them to appropriate the faux credibility of the corrupt media corporation which owns the copyright. The current legislation makes sure that no such interference with the propagandists is allowed.

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    JH says:

    Way to go WK – telling it like it is. The media has been less than truthful about the issue and in fact gives credence to the charge that they are biased. One had to laugh at Oliver and Fife crying about that on Sunday, while proving the very point.

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    debs says:

    Harper refuses to speak to the Media unless its scripted announcements and now on the flipside he doesnt want the media to have control over their own material.
    I dont know what this is, but if harper is behind it, its going to be used in some corrupt manner, no doubt about it.

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      Danny says:

      The media say he doesn’t speak to them. But this week I was off sick at home on Thursday and watched Harper announce the doubling of the Child Fitness tax credit, after which he held a question and answer press conference. He was answering whatever questions the press put to him, including a question from the CBC. And then the CBC cut away from the press conference.
      So sorry mainstream media I need to call bull.

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        smelter rat says:

        If you’re referring to his announcement in Winnipeg, I can assure you that not all media had access to him, and the questions were clearly scripted.

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          debs says:

          thats what I thought too Smelter, it was a choreographed moment so he could sell one of his pre-election goodies.

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    Marth X. says:

    The “progressive” parties hate the media and a free press. Olivia Chow and Tom Mulcair loath the press because their grey, warmed-over Marxist talking points delivered in costumes and tones right out of East Germany are damned lackluster on video. The Bloc Quebecois finds the media Anglo-centric with a John Wayne ethos – talk low and slow – Harper actually does this fairly well – the BLOC et al. would prefer a wine-and-cigarette fueled hours of “discourse” and circular reasoning – doesn’t fit the format. Justin Trudeau loathes the media more with each passing day and rather than getting their Chief Actor to stay on script, they are trying to clamp down on the media itself. Recall people blaming the break-in that wasn’t on Conservative attack ads. Journalist Michael Den Tandt of the National Post decries the “Vile reactions to Justin Trudeau break-in a symptom of the degradation of political debate.” Den Tandt linked the “the reactive bilge water on Twitter” and Conservative attack ads to criminal and deviant behavior. He writes, “online anonymity, in social media and news comment streams, should be abolished…Let individuals be responsible for what they say; everything they say.”Trudeau boycotted an entire media conglom. Basically, it’s Pravda Canada, basic dictatorship or bust.

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    Jerry says:

    Well now I know who turned politics into marketing and everything else into audio visual trivia.

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    Al in Cranbrook says:

    Just watched Ezra’s segment on FOI acquired e-mails between all the major broadcasters (except Sun), basically discussing how to end run the established legality of sharing information in the public domain.

    Why am I not surprised.

    “Media Party” is probably being generous.

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    Joe says:

    Over the years I have noticed and regret the increasing shallowness of the political discourse in Canada. Where once there was broad debate over the merits/demerits of a given course of action now we have 10 second sound bites taken out of context and spun to advantage/disadvantage. The media itself is engaged in tilting opinion one way or the other rather than a dispassionate reporting of the events or ideas. I remember watching an entire event on CPAC then watching the reporting of the same event on the CBC. The two were exactly opposite of each other. One had the main character give a caring reasoned response to an intelligent question while the other, through the use of careful editing, make the same person into a cold uncaring individual whose answer was exactly opposite of what he had clearly said a few hours previous. The CBC eventually had to offer a retraction for its ‘editorializing’ the news. However I am certain that the media is still doing its best to bring its favourite son to power and I see Ezra has emails showing this to be the case.

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    debs says:

    this cbc article explains why harper is doing this, and it makes sense. Harper wants to be able to have ammo against trudeau and mulcair. and since there is any unscripted comments from harper and his team, he is golden.

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    Tim says:

    I’m not sure why the conservatives want to change this. As it is now, right-wing mouth piece, Sun News (sorry, Warren) is the only station that has said political parties may use their material. In my mind, this gives the Cons way more to draw on than any other party. Why force the “more liberal” (aka objective) outlets to release their stuff when it would just give more ammo to the cons opponents?

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    JH says:

    Actually Professor Geist of the Law Faculty has a perfect explanation of what the CBC and other media are about.
    It puts the lie to what many on here are trying to claim and only serves to reinforce WK’s argument.
    I would suggest the press in fact is being hoist by its own petard.

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    smelter rat says:

    I agree with Rick: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l6dZpMwB2eA#t=36

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