Sunday, February 11, 2007

CFNY doesn't get it

A few posts back, I vented my somewhat hyperbolic spleen about Toronto radio station CFNY (the Edge 102.1) running anti-choice commercials produced by the anti-abortion wingnut group "Niagara Right To Life". Prior to writing that post, I'd sent them an email, to which they responded today:

First of all, thanks for the note! One of the things we love about our audience is they are unafraid to talk to us about stuff they hear on the Edge, good OR bad.

(Let me apologize for the long-ish email that follows. This is a complex situation that can only be addressed from an objective, dispassionate point of view. And just so you know, this commercial campaign ended yesterday. The commercials won’t be running anymore.)

We spent many, many hours debating the situation surrounding the Niagara Right to Life ads. Ultimately, though, we came to five conclusions:

(a) Niagara Right to Life is a legal organization;
(b) They purchased a paid commercial. What you heard was NOT a public service announcement but a commercial. In fact, it’s identified as being a “paid commercial message.”
(c) As we every commercial we run for a client, the content is not reflective of the opinions of The Edge or Edge management. We are not endorsing and/or agreeing with anything in those spots. We simply sold them 15 seconds of airtime as if they were any other client.
(d) The Right to Life commercial conforms to all rules and regulations set down by the Canadian Advertising Standards Council and;
(e) As Canadian citizens, the Right to Life people have a legitimate right to offer their opinions on matters of human and social concern, regardless of how contentious it might be.

In other words, there is no legitimate legal or business reason for us to deny this organization's right to free speech as guaranteed under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It’s only when personal belief systems become involved that the waters get murky.

(It should be noted that should someone want to purchase commercial time to run a PRO abortion message, we’d be happy to oblige—as long as the commercial follows the same advertising standards codes.)

We at the Edge take the issue of free speech very, very seriously. We believe that everyone should be entitled to it—so long as no one breaks the law. We don’t believe “You’re free to say whatever you want—unless, of course, we disagree with it. Then you shouldn’t be allowed to say it at all.”

In other words, it's precisely because we're so liberal in our belief in free speech that we decided to run the commercials.

And then there’s the other side of the story. Along with emails much like yours, I've also had a number that state (and I'm paraphrasing) that said "Thanks for having the courage to air these commercials." Their passions are just as strong as yours—except that they’re on the opposite side of the debate.

In other words, it's a no-win situation. Do we run a completely legal commercial and risk annoying the pro-choice people? Or do we refuse the ad and engage in what is essentially censorship? Or do we put our heads in the sand and run cowardly from a difficult issue?

Like I said, we debated long and hard over this one. However, once this contract is done at the end of the month, we're going to spend even more time coming up with a policy regarding commercials such as these. And that's easier said than done. This is why we're carefully gauging reaction from our listeners—such as you.

Hope that sheds a little light on things—and thanks for helping us out.

Alan Cross
Program Director, 102.1 the Edge
(Emphasis mine)

I hate to be picky, but... some issues. The lines I've bolded where he says "the campaign ended yesterday, the commercials won't be running any more," then a few lines down, "once this contract is done at the end of the month". It's a form letter, probably written last month or whenever the ads started running, and maybe the "campaign ended yesterday" part was an add-on. Still, I detect the acrid aroma of bullshit.

Also, this isn't about the anti-choice wingers' freedom of speech. My email indicated that my issue was not with the commerical itself, it's with "a station that's selling itself with a progressive image airing such regressive tripe". If the commercial was running on some right-wing talk radio station, I could live with it, but not when it's hosted by a station that claims to be "progressive". The "we're so liberal we'll air anything" rationale doesn't cut it with me, unless they want to air my "Friends don't let friends practice dogmatic judgmental self-righteous crotch-sniffing leg-humping religion" commercial.