Open CBC's records, Quebecor owner says

A Commons committee heard from witnesses, including Quebecor's Pierre Karl Péladeau, on the CBC's dispute with the federal Information Commissioner over access to information.

Quebecor's Pierre Karl Péladeau said his company's Sun Media subsidiary is the only media company in Canada willing to investigate the CBC, as he appeared before MPs holding hearings into the CBC's dispute with the federal Information Commissioner over access to information requests. 

The loudest moment at the Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics committee Thursday came when Péladeau got into a shouting match with Liberal MP Scott Andrews about Sun Media's practice of blanketing the CBC with access to information requests, and then accusing the corporation of not being transparent or accountable.

"You're trying to find out commercial information about your competitor to use to your advantage," said Andrews. (Quebecor's TV stations in Quebec compete directly with Radio-Canada.)

Péladeau demurred, saying, "We're looking for information to be able to provide the proper knowledge for Canadians to know how CBC/Radio-Canada manages public funds."

As their voices elevated, the chair, Conservative MP Pat Davidson (actually the vice-chair but at the helm today) admonished, "No more hollering back and forth between the two of you."

That exchange reflected the tone of the meeting. NDP MP Charlie Angus, at different times, compared Péladeau to Citizen Kane (a movie stand-in for William Randall Hearst, purveyor of yellow journalism), and to Rupert Murdoch.

The subject of the committee hearings is CBC's court battle with the Information Commissioner over whether CBC should have to submit documents to her office that have been refused under access to information requests. It's not known how many of those requests relate to the hundreds of access to information submissions made to the CBC by Sun Media.

Peladeau described some requests he doesn't think are covered by the Access To Information Act's exclusions for the CBC on journalistic, creative or programming matters:

  • The size and costs of operating CBC's fleet of vehicles.
  • The costs of a party thrown by the CBC at the Toronto International Film Festival.

In other words, said Péladeau, "Nothing to do with journalistic sources, but all to do with CBC/Radio-Canada using every possible scheme to refuse accountability."

Other requests the CBC has denied on the grounds they relate directly to journalism include:

  • The raw footage for a number of related news stories that ran on CBC-TV Sept. 8 and 9, 2008, in the Vancouver, B.C. market.
  • Any emails reporter Terry Milewski has written that relate in any way to his coverage of the Braidwood Taser Inquiry between April 1, 2009, and May 18, 2009.
  • A copy of the minutes of the CBC Television Documentary Unit meeting of July 7, 2007.

It is unknown who made these requests. Under the Access to Information Act, the identity of a requestor can not be disclosed by an organization's ATIP co-ordinator.

At the committee meeting, Péladeau was asked by Angus why "every small town newspaper" owned by Sun Media has the same editorial line.

"Are journalists ordered to write articles attacking Radio-Canada?" Angus wondered.

No, said Péladeau, "No one will tell our journalists what to write."

He also said that most other media outlets have formed commercial relationships with the CBC and dare not suggest CBC wastes taxpayers' money.

"CBC has somehow managed to quiet dissenting voices in most outlets," Péladeau said. And if other media attack the CBC, he said, they risk retaliation, as he says he did.

Péladeau has complained to the CBC and to the prime minister about CBC no longer buying ads in his papers.

Conservative MP Dean Del Mastro said that "it was kind of courageous" for Péladeau to take on the CBC, considering, he said, that "CBC carries the biggest stick in the Canadian media business."

The CBC has responded to Quebecor's allegations by publishing a statement on its website saying Quebecor has received half a billion dollars of taxpayers' dollars in direct and indirect subsidies, from the Canadian Media Fund, from local programming funds (the CBC dips into these funds as well) and from tax credits and other sources, and that Quebecor doesn't have to be accountable for the money. Peladeau says that this is "false and malicious," and he's examining his legal options.

CBC president Hubert Lacroix appears before the committee on Nov. 1.

Read a recap of Kady O'Malley's live blog below.

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