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In February this year, Indigo Books, Canada's largest bookstore chain (with over 50% of the market) refused to carry an issue of the Western Standard, a right wing Canadian news magazine because it chose to publish copies of some of the Danish Muhammad cartoons. In May, Indigo did the same to an issue of Harpers which published a selection of the cartoons. And this month, it was reported that Indigo had banned the June/July issue of Free Inquiry, a magazine published by the Council of Secular Humanism.
Not only was Free Inquiry banned, but the publisher was advised that an issue-by-issue inspection regime was being instituted meaning it will have to submit in advance the cover and table of contents of each issue before a decision would be made on whether or not that issue would be carried in the bookstores.
What was Free Inquiry's "crime?" Not the Muhammad cartoons, but apparently an editorial on free speech. Ironic, isn't it? An article supporting free speech in Free Inquiry gets the magazine banned.
Of course Indigo, operating in a free market in a democracy has every right to discriminate in the publications it chooses to carry. But it should recognize that those most likely to be customers will have a strong bias in favor of free speech, and will object strongly to a general interest bookseller censoring things on their behalf. They might just feel free to take their business elsewhere.
Here's an extract from the editorial that got Free Inquiry banned (you can read the whole article here):
Freedom of speech is important, and it must include the freedom to say what everyone else believes to be false, and even what many people take to be offensive. Religion remains a major obstacle to basic reforms that reduce unnecessary suffering. Think of issues like contraception, abortion, the status of women in society, the use of embryos for medical research, physician-assisted suicide, attitudes towards homosexuality, and the treatment of animals. In each case, somewhere in the world, religious beliefs have been a barrier to changes that would make the world more sustainable, freer, and more humane.
To restrict freedom of expression because we fear ... consequences would not be the right response. It would only provide an incentive for those who do not want to see their views criticized to engage in violent protests in future. Instead, we should forcefully defend the right of newspaper editors to publish such cartoons, if they choose to do so, and hope that respect for freedom of expression will eventually spread to countries where it does not yet exist.
Update Subsequent to the issue becoming public, Indigo backtracked, stating that the banning of Free Inquiry had been an "administrative error." I hope that is just a weak excuse invented for the occasion. It would be really scary that they would have an administrative procedure in place that could arbitrarily result in the banning of a magazine and its placing in an issue-by-issue preinspection.