Sunday, March 18, 2007

It's politics - suck it up

(NB: This post is poorly written and rant-y. Mostly it's a thinly veiled response to the personality conflicts that were the big "scandal" of the SUS elections. But it's no scandal at all. It's really just a personality clash masquerading as about "leadership" or "issues." Also, I hate when people throw around the word "libel." If this interests you, read on. If not, I encourage, nay implore you to move on for now.)

I try to be professional and respectful. But something's bothering me and I need to get it off my chest. It's when Student A has a beef with Student B, and makes some sort of public statement. Usually that beef is personal, but A will always take great pains to portray the conflict as professional. It's not. And that first intrusion is often unwarranted, silly, and petty.

But what gets me all riled up is that Student B is often incapable of taking criticism. B will almost always take it personally, and retaliate as such. And they always accuse A of slander/libel. The whole thing is silly, but this one's my favorite. Mostly because it's always used inappropriately.

Libel defined: a false statement, implicitly or explicitly represented as true, that harms the reputation of another person.
The key point? That it has to be false. Not questionable, not in the grey area between true and false, not an opinion. False.

So is that it? No. Not at all. There are several defences to libel. Instances where we say it's justifiable. For instance, reporting of court proceedings. Or truth of the statement. But the most important is fair comment. Put simply, if a person has an honest and reasonable belief that the statement is true, and they're commenting on a matter of public interest, then it's not considered to be defamatory.

It's basically the "politicians" exception. If Stephen Harper proposes a tax cut and says that the taxpayer will save $500, and I disagree, and print an editorial that says Stephen Harper is wrong and a bad economist, should I be held responsible for libel? Of course not. It's politics - suck it up. And PLEASE stop calling things libelous? I've seen dozens of student politicians complain that a criticism leveled at them was libelous. It rarely is.

Now not all bad statments are libelous. Sometimes A has no business throwing that mud at B. But authorities ought not to substantively intervene unless it actually reaches that potentially libelous level - anything below that threshold threatens and stifles the already meager political debate that may take place. Sure, person A might be discourteous and even rude, but these are personal quibbles, best fixed in the personal arena. And B ought not to go crying to the teacher to make A stop.