01 July 2009

Calgary papers opt out of free speech

Calgarians bridle at references to their fair city as cowtown. And rightly so. There is much more to Calgary than cows. Judging by the behaviour of our two daily papers, however, one might think otherwise. The Vancouver Humane Society wanted to run an ad in the Calgary Herald and the Calgary Sun critical of calf-roping. Both papers refused to run it, even when it dropped a reference to the Calgary Stampede. "The greatest outdoor show on Earth" has often been thought to hold excessive influence in the city, but I hadn't thought it had enough to scare the press. Although it may have, I suspect the papers' timidity has more to do with the defensiveness against outsiders more typical of small towns than mature cities.

Calgary Sun publisher Gordon Norrie claimed the ad is in "bad taste." A Sun newspaper complaining about bad taste -- now that's rich. Actually, the ad is in rather good taste. No nudity, no four-letter words, some violence -- a photo of a man hurling a calf to the ground -- but no blood. The theme is that men who bounce baby animals off the turf are bullies. A soft-hearted ad, perhaps, even misguided from a macho perspective, but hardly in bad taste.

The Stampede didn't approve of the ad of course. They trotted out their usual line about caring passionately about animals, etc., etc. According to spokesman Douglas Fraser, "If we in any way mistreated our animals, they would not perform." The animals are performing? I think running for their lives is more accurate.

In any case, all is not lost for the Humane Society. The weekly newspaper Fast Forward is running the ad. It's reassuring to know some press people still respect dissenting opinions, even those critical of sacred cows (OK, enough about cows already).

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