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OPINION: Why censoring misinformation is a bad idea

The Epoch Times may be bad journalism but luckily it is allowed to exist in our country
Many residents of Chilliwack have been asking questions after free copies of The Epoch Times were delivered by Canada Post in January 2021. (Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress)

In increasingly divisive times, as frustrated consumers of information retreat into echo chambers, it’s as important as ever to hear what all sides have to say.

On many modern-day issues of controversy there is a hair-trigger impulse to reject the “other” side before even listening. I get that. There are certain outlets and individuals who you know will spew garbage, but sometimes it’s important to sort through the trash to know how to clean it up.

Take the rising star of modern-day McCarthyism, The Epoch Times, which sees Communist China behind every rock. The media outlet is the creation of the Falun Gong cult, growing exponentially in the last few years with its adoration of Donald Trump. The Manhattan-based media company, its Canadian version with offices in Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver, is well-known for its conspiracy theories and blatant misinformation, some disinformation, masking as journalism.

It has raised eyebrows here in Chilliwack with some residents posting online, some have asked me directly, about why copies of the newspaper are being delivered.

I asked Canada Post about the corporation’s policy on what they will or, more importantly, what they will not deliver. Media relations spokesperson Phil Legault said they always listen to complaints from customers or employees about controversial mailings. But: “As Canada’s postal administration, Canada Post is obligated to deliver any mail that is properly prepared and paid for, unless it is considered non-mailable matter. The Courts have told Canada Post that its role is not to act as the censor of mail or to determine the extent of freedom of expression in Canada. This is an important distinction between Canada Post and private sector delivery companies.

“Any views we may have about the content do not change our obligation to deliver. Any further questions about the publication should be directed to the publisher.”

Valid response. Those of us in the information dissemination business, who also like to write opinion columns, should also adhere to the words of Voltaire biographer Evelyn Beatrice Hall who wrote in 1906: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

(A quote often misattributed to Voltaire himself.)

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The Epoch Times is controversial for some pretty obvious reasons: It promotes extreme right-wing conspiracy theories, it repeats lies, misinformation and disinformation spread by Donald Trump and supporters, and shares disinformation from other conservative U.S. groups like Judicial Watch.

The Epoch Times repackages lies as news, and don’t get me started on their opinion pieces. But while outright lies, such as those told by Trump, are shocking and should stop, misinformation and its big brother disinformation should always be met with information, dissection and correction, rather than cancel culture.

We have to be careful about stopping free expression, even if it’s bad free expression. In Canada, we have section 2(b) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms that states: “Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms: freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication.”

What’s dangerous about The Epoch Times is that the misinformation is real, but in most cases, subtle. The faux-journalism against China and cheerleading for Trump isn’t hate speech and doesn’t violate any laws regarding free speech.

(Whether promoting Trump and the lies that led to this week’s sedition and domestic terrorism in Washington, DC, is a step too far, is another question altogether.)

The Epoch Times is best used to wrap fish or line your green bin. But in Canada it has a right to exist unlike in China, ironically, where any criticism is forbidden.

This publication is frustrating because of the nonsense it spreads. It may be bad journalism, but I insist that the fact that it is allowed to exist is actually a good thing for our democracy and our freedom.

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