CAJ responds to proposed two-tiered press in Quebec

Late last month, Quebec Culture Minister Christine St-Pierre voiced her support for a “professional journalist” status in Quebec. Reaction from journalists (and from us) was predictably negative. For freelancers especially, the designation would block too many from accessing important sources in government. Some suggested it was an attack on freedom of speech. And now the Canadian Association of Journalists has released its own comment on the proposal. To put it mildly, they’re not into the idea.

While it acknowledges that Quebec’s press isn’t perfect (and neither is the press anywhere else), and perhaps there is an insufficient variety of news sources, the document argues that a professional status for journalists would in no way address this issue. Furthermore:

  • The proposal runs counter to freedom of the press: “By its very nature, the Quebec government’s proposal to divide journalists into several classes, backed by legislation and giving one group rights and privileges denied the other, is a fundamental interference by government in true freedom of the press.”
  • The notion that Canadians are “confused” when it comes to media sources is unfounded: “…A new study by professor Alfred Hermida from the University of British Columbia entitled “Your Friend as Editor,” released in early September at a conference in Cardiff, England, found that Canadians continue to choose mainstream trusted online news sources to get their information, but also like to reach out to varied and broader non-traditional sources such as blogs and social media where they can access a wider range of opinions and topics which they may not have heard of before.”
  • An official designation will not make readers trust a journalist: “What has always mattered, in terms of credibility, is a journalist’s own actions. If a blogger consistently reports things that are important, accurate and interesting, they will get an audience. If a “professional” journalist is known for getting things wrong, for missing the story, for being uninteresting, for acting unprofessionally, their audience will likely dwindle, title or not.”
  • Securing the designation may be impossible for journalists with limited resources: “The costs involved for those who may want to obtain and maintain such a title should be clearly spelled out. And if not a cost in money, then in time. Independent journalists, and newly graduated journalism students operating with few resources, may not see the benefit in bothering to apply for the designation.”
  • Journalists working outside the country may also face barriers: “How would a journalist who is normally based outside of Canada, let’s say from an influential news organization such as BBC or CNN or the New York Times, be able to get access to Quebec government sources and spokespersons on the ground, if they were not accredited as a professional journalist in Quebec?”
  • The designation could be unfair to journalists (and readers) who do not speak French as their first language: “If they speak Urdu or Pashto or Arabic, and their readers are primarily allophones, would they not qualify as professional journalists under the proposed rules?”

It’s a strong and damning statement against the proposal from an organization whose primary aim is to promote excellence in journalism. We hope the Minister St-Pierre and other Quebec politicians take note.

Read the full response here.

Posted on September 23, 2011 at 1:01 pm by editor · · Tagged with: , , ,

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