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Apparently being Ezra Levant means never having to say you're sorry

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Ezra Levant

As tout le monde tout le monde nervously awaits today’s U.S. election, the story generating buzz on the Canadian Interwebs is a sorry tale of a Manitoba journalist fired for annoying her local Conservative Member of Parliament.

Jill Winzoski's particular sin in the view of the pathetic management of her erstwhile employer the Selkirk Record, as reported yesterday by journalist Michael Harris at iPolitics.ca, seems to have been asking local MP James Bezan hard questions. Apparently she missed the memo that says this is no longer permitted without career-threatening consequences. Bezan's whinging letter about her efforts was read aloud to Winzoski by her boss as he ordered her to walk the plank.

Harris has covered this matter quite ably. His report did make me wonder, though, where those great defenders of Free Speech, like the Sun News Network’s Ezra Levant, have gone now at a moment when there is some speech to defend.

It occurred to me then I had a post about Levant languishing near the bottom of my not-actually-all-that-interesting spike that may provide some insights into that very question. Indeed, this seems like a propitious moment to brush the dust off it before it's too late to use it, as we await the intertwined fates of President Barack Hussein Obama and Governor Willard “Mittens” Romney.

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Apparently being Ezra Levant means never having to say you're sorry, no matter what you say or do.

Sun News Network has lately been tossing off bouquets of apologies for their far-right bloviator's ugly attacks against whole cultural groups and obscene profanities about people he disagrees with.

But Levant himself is silent. Whatever can it mean?

Sun News Network has apologized to the Roma people, who were attacked by Levant in language reminiscent what passed for public discourse in the late 1920s and early 30s. And now they've even apologized to me!

In the case of Levant's on-air remarks about the Roma community -- which were broadcast on the Sun News Network on Sept. 5 and posted across Canada on all Sun newspaper sites -- the Toronto Star now reports the Toronto Police Department is investigating the commentary as a possible hate crime.

According to news reports, Toronto's Roma Community Centre believes Levant's remarks violated Section 319(2) of the Criminal Code of Canada, which states: "Every one who, by communicating statements, other than in private conversation, willfully promotes hatred against any identifiable group is guilty" of an indictable offence or an offence punishable on summary conviction.

It would be a mistake to read too much into this, as the police are investigating a formal complaint, which one would assume is standard operating procedure any time a complaint of this nature is made.

Still, while it seems to have done little about Levant and his regular excesses, Sun News Network appears to be taking seriously the centre's accusation this particular broadcast of his program The Source amounted to "nearly nine minutes of on-air racist hate-speech." At any rate, it pulled the video of the broadcast from Youtube and its newspaper sites (although an audio recording can be heard here) and read an apology on the air.

"We have completed a review of the material and we agree that this content was inappropriate and should not have gone to air," Sun News Network said it part in its on-air apology. "It was not the intent of Sun News, or anyone employed by Sun News, to promote negative stereotypes about the Roma people. We regret our error in these broadcasts, and we apologize unreservedly to the Roma people and to you, our viewers." (Emphasis added.)

Of course, the statement that no one at Sun News Network intended to promote negative stereotypes of the Roma is pretty hard to swallow when their commentator described the Roma as "gypsies, a culture synonymous with swindlers" and claimed that "one of the central characteristics of that culture is that their chief economy is theft and begging."

Sounds like an attempt to promote a negative stereotype to me!

But then, Sun News Network apologies often have this quality of not quite being in tune with reality, or at least the gravity of the situation.

Speaking of which, alert readers will recall my own disagreement with Sun News Network over Levant's frequent use on numerous occasions in a couple of broadcasts of a Spanish phrase normally translated as "f**k your mother" to abuse people he disagreed with. When I complained to the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, an apparently toothless industry self-regulating group, Levant directed the same charming epithet at me.

Recently, however, I received a letter from the legal counsel for Sun News Network that provided me with the text of an apology read on the air back on Sept. 17 for Levant's use of the phrase on the air on June 12, 2012.

This apology, as previously reported, said in part: "Earlier this summer and last spring, our program The Source broadcast several episodes in which the Spanish phrase 'Chinga tu madre' was used. … Sun News and the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council received many complaints about our use of the phrase, which has a well-known vulgar meaning. We have listened to those complaints. We understand and accept that it was inappropriate to air that phrase at that time of day and without a viewer warning about vulgar content that might be offensive to some viewers. Sun News does not accept any restriction on our right to use sharp or hard-hitting language as part of our editorial commentary… ." (Emphasis added.)

From this, it has been argued here, it is fair to conclude that Sun News Network admitted to doing no wrong in its statements, reserves the right to use such language in the future, asserts its right to ignore regulations that apply to other broadcasters, and disdains the authority of any body that attempts to regulate the use of the public airwaves.

Interestingly, the recent letter from the network's legal counsel said in addition that Sun News concedes "the opening monologue on that date used inappropriately vulgar language and that it was an error of judgment to permit the segment to go to air."

However, as appears to be typical of Sun News Network, the letter argues that nothing more needs to be done now that it has apologized and further that my complaint Levant's vilification of me on the air was justified since I had publicly identified myself as someone who had complained to the CBSC about their commentator's on-air obscenities.

"Sun News acknowledges and respects the CBSC's prohibition on publicly naming CBSC complainants," the network's legal counsel argued. "But Sun News submits that that prohibition does not and should not apply in a case such as this, where the complainant voluntarily identifies himself to the general public. Under the circumstances, Sun New submits that this aspect of Mr. Climenhaga’s complaint should be dismissed."

"Having said that," the letter concludes, "Sun News wishes to reaffirm that it accepts and agrees that the use of the phrase to which Mr. Climenhaga initially objected, without a viewer warning, was inappropriate."

The one thing is missing in all this orgy of regrets, however, is any suggestion that Levant himself thinks he has anything to apologize for.

He has never responded to my three requests for his views on this matter, or his thoughts on Sun News Network's apparent lack of support for his commentary.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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