As Vice President of PEN, Margaret Atwood has pledged to oppose “any form of suppression of freedom of expression. But she sits on a board of directors with a man who says some people have no right to free speech. She has written the forward to a book by David Suzuki – who thinks politicians should be jailed for their climate change decisions. And she has encouraged her Twitter followers to visit a web page that says a television station should be stopped. Read the prequel to this essay here.
Margaret Atwood, who will celebrate her 71st birthday next week, is a novelist and poet who has been winning major literary awards since 1967. She is currently a Vice President of the writer’s group, PEN International. PEN’s charter says:
PEN stands for the principle of unhampered transmission of thought within each nation and between all nations, and members pledge themselves to oppose any form of suppression of freedom of expression in the country and community to which they belong.
Shortly after nine pm on the last day of August, however, Atwood published a message on Twitter that read:
The second link in that message directed Atwood’s (now more than 99,000) Twitter followers to a web page. What did these followers see when they arrived? A large, bright, pink headline that shouts: Canada: Stop ‘Fox News North’.
The target of this page is a Canadian-owned, right-leaning television channel called Sun TV that isn’t scheduled to begin broadcasting until January (see Part 1 here). Nevertheless, the three paragraphs of text directly below the headline claim to be clairvoyant.
The new television channel represents the addition of “American-style hate media” to Canadian airwaves. The channel will “mimic the kind of hate-filled propaganda with which Fox News has poisoned U.S. politics.” It is a “nightmare” and, one more time for good measure, it’s an example of “American-style hate media.”
This web page does not simply advocate censorship, it advocates preemptive censorship. Based on what a New York-based activist group thinks a Canadian media company is going to say months from now, this web page declares that ‘Fox News North’ must be stopped.
In a subsequent blog post, Atwood argued that the actual text of the petition (the third paragraph of the three mentioned above) doesn’t directly advocate censorship. This is about as convincing as Bill Clinton’s claim that he “did not have sex with that woman.”
If one is being faithful to one’s spouse, one does not engage in oral sex with other people. If one is a champion of free speech one cannot encourage others to visit a website in which the headline calls for a television channel to be stopped.
Nor is this the only indication that Atwood’s allegiance to free speech is less than robust. Her website informs other authors that she “cannot write an introduction to your book.” Nevertheless, she did pen the forward to David Suzuki’s latest, published in September. This was after Suzuki told an audience of 600 at McGill University in 2008 that elected politicians who ignore the opinions of unelected climate scientists should be jailed. According to a news account, Suzuki was applauded when he said:
What I would challenge you to do is to put a lot of effort into trying to see whether there’s a legal way of throwing our so-called leaders into jail because what they’re doing is a criminal act.
If you have pledged, as Atwood has, to “oppose any form of suppression of freedom of expression” you cannot be best friends with someone who has publicly advocated jailing those with whom he disagrees.
It gets worse. Atwood is an honorary board member of the David Suzuki Foundation. The chairman of that board is a gentleman described as follows:
President, owner and founder of Hoggan & Associates, James Hoggan is one of Canada’s most successful public relations firms specializing in managing difficult issues [and a].co-founder of the influential climate change website DeSmogBlog.com.
In climate change circles, DeSmogBlog.com is notorious. Run by public relations professionals it smears and belittles those who express non-mainstream climate change views. As I’ve noted previously, DeSmogBlog’s anti-free-speech manifesto is prominently displayed on the right-hand sidebar of virtually every page on its website. It reads, in part:
There is a vast difference between putting forth a point of view, honestly held, and intentionally sowing the seeds of confusion. Free speech does not include the right to deceive. Deception is not a point of view. And the right to disagree does not include a right to intentionally subvert the public awareness.
Hoggan, you see, claims to be able to tell the difference between those who are honest and those who are trying to trick us. The latter group, he insists, has no right to free speech. (I’ve critiqued this outrageous double-speak in detail here.)
Let me say this again. Margaret Atwood sits on the same board of directors as a man who openly declares that some people have no right to free speech. She has recently written a forward for a book by another man who thinks politicians should be jailed for their climate change decisions. She has, moreover, encouraged her nearly 100,000 Twitter followers to visit a web page that says a television station that hasn’t even begun broadcasting yet should be stopped.
This is unacceptable. By remaining as Vice President of PEN International, Atwood undermines the credibility of that important and worthy organization. She must resign.
The author of this blog was a member of the board of directors of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association between 1993 and 1998. She served as a Vice-President from 1998-2001.