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On Being Yanked Off the Air

What it says about free, fierce speech.

Rafe Mair 17 Oct

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Being bought out of radio contracts is as least as rewarding as being fired by the government! I've been trying to figure out whether or not I've made more money working or not working the past few years!

I'm saddened by the events at 600AM. I believe, with considerable evidence, that we had turned the corner with the Rafe Mair Show and had become quite competitive. Our summer ratings (not a traditionally a good "book" for talk radio) was up 25 percent over the spring and in a poll of readers by the Georgia Straight, with 78,000 responses, I was voted "Best Talk Show Host, Radio".

I am pleased with the fact that the parting was pleasant, indeed cordial.

I am, however, out of work and have every intention of getting back on the airwaves by the New Year at the latest if I can find someone who wants me.

Where are the muckrakers?

It's always difficult to assess one's own importance. I remember a wise man saying to me that no matter how important you are, when you die the world skips not a beat and keeps right on chugging. With that in mind, let me address what happens in the long term, which I clearly don't have, to the "information" field where a Rafe Mair isn't welcome.

Clearly, we will not have shit disturbers in the mainstream media. We will have plenty of clever wordsmiths, poking at the establishment with a jab here and a light smack there, who will only really emerge from the torpor of self-censorship when the story is too big to ignore. The surprise isn't the Sponsorship scandal, rather that a muckraker didn't get wind of it all sooner and start blowing whistles before the eminent Sheila Fraser, our Auditor-General, did. There are no true tough journalists in the Parliamentary press gallery nor on the so-called "national" papers. So, we've reached the sorry pass where officials get the dirt before the media do and, in the end, these officials are hired and fired by politicians.

I make two points at this juncture - the bosses censor the media outlets they own by the editors they hire and their editors censor by not hiring shit disturbers in the first place or, if they happen along, letting them know in a hundred little ways what's expected of them.

The second point is that I don't for a second blame the working journalist. I have always worked for organizations whose very existence was to hold the establishment's feet to the fire. You can only begin to understand the heat the brass at CKNW felt when I held Premier Vander Zalm's feet to the fire; was the only mainstream media voice in the country opposing Meech/Charlottetown (for six and a half years) and joined the fight against the Kemano Completion Project. For me, it was easy because unlike those who now toil in the establishment media, my mortgage payments were never jeopardized. As Ron Bremner, Manager of CKNW during my best days, told the sales staff: "Don't bitch about Rafe … free speech is what this station sells so get the hell out there and sell it." Others haven't been that fortunate.

A feisty few

This is not to say that there isn't courageous, and at times, vigorous journalism. Very quickly, one thinks of Charlie Smith, Russ Francis, Sean Holman and Bill Tieleman … and, of course, the exception to the rule, Barbara Yaffe. Barbara survives, and is an ongoing thorn in the side of the Liberals, her employers so love because, I think, they're scared of her. She cannot be bought out with the bag of gold and she wouldn't be fired without massive bloodshed. She is, you might have surmised, one of my heroes. I think, in fairness, one must note that for reasons I can't explain, the Victoria Times-Colonist seems to permit, if not encourage free speech, something so terribly rare these days.

I think that the absence of a Rafe Mair creates two terrible impediments to the search under the establishment rugs for the dirt that sustains their foundations.

First, I have always been available as the voice for those skillful practitioners of the muckraking art even if I couldn't do it myself. Indeed, when I describe myself as a "muckraker" (a term made honourable, incidentally and accidentally, by Theodore Roosevelt) I realize I flatter myself because mostly I've been the muckraker's mouthpiece. Let me remind you of a story you may have forgotten - the disgraceful theft of players pensions by NHL owners and the companion story of Allan Eagleson. There wasn't a sportswriter in the bloody country who really wanted to get into these messes so, for this region at any rate, I was the spokesman. Carl Brewer, representing the cheated players, his indomitable lady Susan Foster and Russ Conway of the Lawrence (Mass.) Eagle-Tribune plus Canadian freelancer Bruce Dowbiggin used my show to tell their horrible truths. I was as popular as a skunk at a garden party with the local jocks who wouldn't, by criticizing the high and the mighty, jeopardize their special seats at the game, all the beer they could swizzle, plus access to the players' changing room. The "establishment" is big and powerful with extremely long tentacles.

'Non-establishment media'

Secondly, I have been able to be persistent. During the Charlottetown Accord debacle every single element of the "establishment" -- the politicians (with the notable exception of Gordon Wilson, then BC Liberal leader), the business community, labour, the artsy fartsy crowd and the entire mainstream media were all on side. One of the largest media organizations, MacLean-Hunter, actually signed on the "yes" side and not an establishment eyebrow was raised at one of the fourth estate abandoning its traditional role and pumping out the government line. I was the only member of the "mainstream media" who urged "no" and here's the point - I was able to fight this issue from the beginnings of the Meech Lake Accord through to the referendum on Charlottetown without hindrance.

What, if any impact, this tenacity had in the event I can't say. I can say, however, that this platform has been eliminated. Fights like Charlottetown, the Kemano Completion Project, the Pitt River Gravel plant and the Atlantic salmon fish farms can no longer be sustained but must rely upon a media which, for the most part, is owned by the establishment who, at the very most, might occasionally issue forth a weak little peep. Or, by independent papers like this one.

That's the bit of silver on the black cloud. Publications like this and non-establishment media will help courageous writers get opinions adverse to those set in authority over us out into the community. They need support and we must give it to them … we need all the bully pulpits filled with all the free minds and voices we can get.

For it's not the voice of Rafe Mair that matters - it's the loss of his bully pulpit.

Rafe Mair will continue to write his Monday column for The Tyee. His website is  [Tyee]

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