Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Worst Interview Ever

I just had the worst interview ever, with CHTV in Hamilton.

In my capacity as Vice-President of Electronic Frontier Canada (now sadly somewhat dormant) I do television and radio interviews. This was a phone interview for a TV show, a strange concept in itself.

The subject was ostensibly Craig Legare, an Edmonton man who was recently acquitted of attempting to lure a 12-year-old girl over the Internet for sexual purposes.

The show's producer, Lawrence Diskin, contacted me on Monday to see if I was willing to do an interview. In my preliminary discussion, I had pointed out that the problem is nothing new; as long ago as 1905, an editorial in the journal Telephony asked, "The doors may be barred and a rejected suitor kept out, but how is the telephone to be guarded?" I expected a calm discussion of how changing technology interacts with the law, and that's what the producer said he wanted. He didn't inform me others would be in on the interview.

When they called at 1:30 PM, I was surprised to find that Roy Green (apparently some right-wing local radio personality) would be on with me, as well as David Butt, who if I'm not mistaken was involved as Crown counsel in the grotesque and farcical 1993 police confiscation of paintings by artist Eli Langer.

No surprise, then, that the interview was just looking for a "gotcha" moment. When I pointed out that laws against luring must be crafted narrowly to avoid criminalizing things like sex education classes, or kids chatting about sex with each other, or reading each other Romeo and Juliet, the host immediately began to demagogue, asking "What about common sense, Jeffrey?" He wasn't interested in listening to my point.

Laws are bad when they are focused on a single medium of communication -- they make the mistake of attacking on the medium and not the message. If luring children for sexual purposes is the problem, let's make laws that address that problem, and not gear them to the Internet. Children can be lured just as well by someone leaning over your backyard fence, or calling your children on the phone when you are not home. The Internet isn't some entirely new threat; it just makes it easier. And laws geared to current media may prove inadequate when media change.

We should craft laws that address the behavior we consider criminal, and the laws should be so narrow that they don't also capture behavior we would consider legitimate. That was my point. I tried to make it, but the host was so intent on demagoguing, it seemed to go over his head.


dheadley said...

So wait, you support child molestation?

Seriously, sorry to hear about that. Was it a deer caught in the headlights kind of thing?

Patti said...

Aw, poor moose! It's awful when people gang up.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

I don't think it was "deer in the headlights". First, since they were just using a picture of me, and not video, I certainly didn't look any worse than I usually do.

When people try to manipulate me unfairly, I get angry, and that's what happened. I told the host off--I told him he had a responsibility as a broadcaster to present a rational look at the question, and he had failed. I also told him, after the show was over, that I wouldn't do any other interviews with him again.

Freedom of speech is a core value in Canada, enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It's dismaying to see how quickly some Canadians would abandon those values when it is expedient.