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Watching the Watchdog: The Holier Than Thou Network

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Tim Knight writes the regular media column, Watching the Watchdog, for HuffPost Canada.

Readers of this column -- of whom there are distressingly few compared to the many millions who apparently need to know everything there is about nipslips and baby bumps and all matters royal -- will know that I'm a more serious blogger than most.

I'm much given to rather lengthy diatribes deploring the state of journalism today, the deliberate attacks by our government on the Canadian participatory democracy I cherish (having lived under some alternatives), and all manner of racism, sexism, ageism and other isms which all decent people deplore along with me.

But today, I'm waxing wrathful about TV networks and stations that mutilate innocent and often brilliant programs and, quite simply, by doing so steal our money.

Specifically VisionTV -- which calls itself "the World's only national multi-faith and multi-cultural television service." According to its website, it offers "... entertainment programming that deals with spiritual, moral, ethical and social issues and values."

All very highfalutin and suspiciously worthy.

Now, personally being neither superstitious nor a believer in magic, I'm not religious. I have an excuse. I went to Anglican church schools most of my formative years and as a result developed a healthy doubt that anybody called God actually exists in spite of all that praying and hymning and stuff.

Even so, I'm particularly fond of programs that cover "spiritual, moral, ethical and social issues and values" which are some of my favourite things. I frequently get into beery arguments about them with friends, which is a splendid way to spend an evening, particularly when it's snowing like now. (If you happen to be in the neighbourhood, incidentally, TVO, Ontario's educational channel, does those things extremely well.)

Added to which, I have absolutely no problem with a channel that wants to save people's souls. Just so long as they leave mine alone.

What does bother me about Vision's "multi-faith and multi-cultural television service" is the obscenity it does to some of the world's finest TV sitcoms. Programs that tell truth through hyperbole, satire and irony. Programs that find everything questionable and nothing sacred.

I speak, of course, of such as Absolutely Fabulous, Fawlty Towers, and particularly some of the best political reporting ever put to tape, Yes, Minister.

Britain's Iron Lady, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, once described Yes, Minister admiringly, if reluctantly, as not fiction, but documentary. Which means she thought it told the real, sad, sordid truth about the cynical exercise of power by politicians and civil service bureaucrats in Britain's Mother of Parliaments. And made us laugh at these all-powerful folk. Which is a splendidly healthy thing to do.

With a slight change of accents, it could have been set in own beloved Ottawa and nobody would have been able to tell the difference.

But I digress. All this is a long way around to telling you that evening after evening, I settle down after a long day's slaving over a tepid keyboard to enjoy the manifold and manifest delights of my erstwhile countrypeoples' best iconoclastic storytelling. Which, in its natural state, oozes with magnificently eccentric storytelling, satirical wit and razor insight.

And evening after evening, I'm offered emasculated versions of the original program, so crudely and brutally cut that the stories are rendered meaningless. This desecration is committed so more and more commercials can be shoved in and more and more profit made.

This from the holier-than-thou network that claims it's into all that spiritual, moral and ethical stuff.

It's like desecrating a fine painting. Or cutting the king out of Hamlet to make room for more commercials. It's inexcusable. It must end.

I don't know and I don't care if Vision massacres its religious programming in the same way, although I doubt it. If I'm wrong and there actually is a God, he (it's always he) can handle that problem perfectly well by himself. Thunderbolts and plagues of locusts come to mind. Killing first-born would be a bit much.

Anyway, we viewers have to take a stand. We're paying for programs that we're not getting. We're being cheated. So if you know who commits or authorizes this blasphemy at Vision please let me know. I shall publicly demand an explanation and it better be good.

Other networks mutilate programs too, of course. For the same sordid commercial reasons. And I'd love to know who does the dirty work there too.

But sanctimonious Vision is where Yes, Minister lives these days.

So Vision is where my wrath is aimed.

So much for all those "spiritual, moral, ethical and social issues and values."

Hah!