Wednesday, March 31, 2010


Ian Hislop's brilliant article Politics and Humour in this week’s Radio Times about the impossibility of impartial humour, reminds me of the time I was writing and producing an arts/politics public affairs show for CBC Radio 3 in Toronto, where I learned that media impartiality meant that truth and lies must be treated with equal and uncritical respect. I got so sick of this that I wrote a radio play for my slot, called "Controversial Issues". It was about
Galileo - an Italian immigrant to Canada who had just discovered that the Earth moves around the Sun. To examine in depth Galileo's startling claim our reporter interviewed government scientists and leading politicians who talked out of both sides of their mouths, various wise persons, and people on the street, and at the end of it you heard everything, leaving you no
wiser whether the Sun moved around the Earth or whether it was the other way around. The play concluded with an apology for the previous week's program about Hitler, in response to listeners’ objections to its lack of impartiality. We apologized for saying that Hitler killed millions of people without pointing out that he has also eliminated unemployment. I produced the play with leading Canadian actors, using recorded music between the scenes. Management got wind of it, and banned it. I said if they don't let me broadcast it, I will quit and go to the papers telling them why. ‘No, no, no,’ said the head of radio, ‘We are not against satire, it is just that you don't have much experience as a director and we think the play is so wonderful that we will commission original music for it and give it a better time-slot.’
They re-recorded the play replacing the stars in my production with third-rate actors. And they used the same records I used, with this difference - they brought in the music earlier, drowning out all the lines that hit home, all the punch lines... It was one of several incidents that convinced me that I wouldn’t have a happy and secure future with the corporation and must get out.