Quebecor press council departure a 'crisis'

The head of Quebec's Press Council says media giant Quebecor's decision to withdraw from the voluntary organization threatens its future.
Quebec Press Council head John Gomery says Quebecor's departure from the organization threatens its survival and could force the province to step in and regulate the media. ((CBC))
The head of Quebec's Press Council says media giant Quebecor's decision to withdraw from the voluntary organization threatens its future.

The independent organization, which receives and reviews complaints from members of the public over journalistic standards in Quebec, is headed by former Quebec Superior Court justice John Gomery.

Quebecor's decision, announced last week, is a blow to the freedom of expression, Gomery told a news conference in Montreal on Tuesday.

The departure of the media conglomerate, which produces 40 per cent of the news content in the province, means a loss of moral authority for the council, he said.

The move could cause the government to step in and legislate, a prospect that raises some fundamental questions, said Gomery.

"The constitution of Canada treats freedom of the press in a very special way and for a very good reason, because it's one of the bedrocks of our freedoms," he said.

A self-regulating body such as the press council plays a pivotal role in protecting that freedom, said Gomery.

"I don't want to use too dramatic language, but I think that this is a very serious crisis for the free flow of information in this province."

In a letter to the council, Quebecor — the parent company of the Sun Media chain as well as French-language television network TVA and the Journal de Montréal newspaper — said its withdrawal from the organization was due to its dissatisfaction with some of recent rulings involving its newspapers.

The company has also threatened legal action should the council continue to review complaints about content produced by Quebecor affiliates.

Gomery says he will, however, continue to investigate complaints against the company's newspapers.
Quebecor president and CEO Pierre-Karl Peladeau makes the pitch for the new Sun TV News channel in Toronto on June 15. (Mike Cassese/Reuters)

Quebecor's dissatisfaction with the council's decisions is no reason for the company to leave the organization, Gomery said.

"You know, discipline isn't always agreeable," he said.

Quebecor's withdrawal from the council was also denounced by Quebec's federation of professional journalists.

The move deprives citizens of a "simple and accessible" form of recourse, the federation said in a statement.

The group questioned what sort of ethical and professional standards Quebecor will hold itself to.

Quebecor does not have "the slightest credible mechanism to independently receive and process public complaints," the federation said.

Gomery said he hopes to convince Quebecor head Pierre-Karl Péladeau to reverse his decision during a meeting next week.

The Quebec Press Council, which has no power to sanction media organizations, has been in place for 36 years.