If you haven’t had a chance yet, check out this excellent article in The Walrus about why Canada – the home of America’s greatest comics – has such a hard time producing good political satire on the home front.
The problem? Canada’s libel laws chill free speech (not to mention good comedy). Rebecca Addelman outlines it beautifully in her article: “In a stubborn refusal to adhere to the modern legal status quo, defendants in a defamation case here bear the burden of proof—that is, they are guilty until proven innocent. Our law presumes that the defendant’s words are false and that the plaintiff has been damaged by the accusations. Unfortunately, “I was just joking” is not a defense.”
Problematically, this issue isn’t limited to comedians. Do you have a blog? Ever linked to a blog? Then you too are exposed. As this blogger learned, anyone, even those who just link to something potentially libelous, could be exposed.
Welcome to the limits of free culture.
The next big rights debate (and major piece of any new progressive agenda) could be around whether or not we establish a legal infrastructure that ensures citizens can assess and shape our country’s political and public discourse online. It’s already starting to bubble up in the US. Check out this amazing story about how Digg, fearing it might be breaking the law, tried to censor its own users.