Patrick Lagacé has a column this week about how people in the Rest of Quebec hate Montreal. How they judge everything based on a comparison with Montreal. How they judge themselves by whether they’re better than Montreal.
Even though I’m a life-long Montrealer, I see where they’re coming from.
And I point at least one finger at the media.
When Global Television’s CKMI-TV regional station in Quebec City officially became a Montreal station on Sept. 1, I understood the reasoning (mainly to gain access to local advertising, but also to acknowledge the de facto change to a Montreal station), but I was also a bit disappointed.
At its peak, Global Quebec had an active Quebec City station and a bureau in the Eastern Townships. The only other anglophone television stations in Quebec were both local stations based in Montreal (with at most a reporter at the National Assembly). I had wondered if, instead of focusing on its largest cities, Global could set itself apart from the other two by being a truly regional network, by covering the far-away communities ignored buy CTV and CBC. It would, effectively, be the local station for anglos in Quebec City, Sherbrooke, Trois-Rivières, Gaspé, and even some places in the Montreal metropolitan area that the city’s reporters hesitate to venture to.
But the economics of that proposition apparently don’t hold. It’s expensive to cover such a large area, and the anglophone population outside Montreal is simply too small and too widespread to be able to create that critical mass of loyal viewership.
Instead, Global concluded that it would be better as the #3 station in Montreal than the #1 station elsewhere in Quebec.
(Of course, this logic applies only to local programming, of which CKMI and CBC’s CBMT produce a pathetic 7.5 hours a week. The rest would have no difference in content or reach if the station were based in Montreal or St-Louis-du-Ha! Ha!)
And today in Montreal…
It’s easy to get local news as a Montrealer. Three nightly TV newscasts in English, two in French (not counting what’s on TQS V). An all-news French radio station, and news/talk radio stations in both languages. Six daily newspapers, of which two are free. And, of course, blogs and online sources such as this one.
But it goes farther than that. Two all-news TV channels, Radio-Canada’s RDI and Quebecor’s LCN, are headquartered here. LCN is often on the TV in the newsroom because it’s essentially become a Montreal local all-news channel.
If I wanted to, say, get a story about a local event in Quebec City told by local English media, I’d have to scratch my head a bit figuring out where to go. CBC has an English radio station there, but it doesn’t even have a website (it piggybacks off CBC Montreal, and calls itself the Quebec Community Network). My other option is the Quebec Chronicle-Telegraph, a weekly community newspaper.
In other cities in Quebec, the options for local news – in either language – become even bleaker than that. The Sherbrooke Record is the only English daily outside of Montreal. Outside of some low-budget community initiatives, there are no English news media and few French media. And much of that media contains news from the big-budget corporate headquarters of Montreal in between the bits of local flavour. Like Toronto is the media capital of Canada, Montreal is the media capital of Quebec.
What this all means is that when people outside Montreal turn on their TVs, turn on their radios, open their newspapers or go on the Internet, they’re bombarded with news from Montreal, while in many cases their local news consists of gallery openings, petty crimes in police blotters, and grandmas turning 100.
One city down, 1109 to go
The big news in Montreal this week is the release of an auditor’s report into a water meter contract, which led to its cancellation. That whole ordeal might not have come to light had it not been for local media and reporters like La Presse’s André Noël and (I’d say especially, but perhaps that would be biased) The Gazette’s Linda Gyulai (I give her the plug here because I gave her a length for her story last night and she astonishingly filed to exactly that length). Gyulai is a dedicated city hall reporter who doesn’t have to spend (much) time chasing ambulances and rewriting press releases. She can focus strictly on her beat and spend days reading massive reports and digging for information.
With the exceptions of Le Soleil and the Journal de Québec in Quebec City (both of which still contain quite a bit of Montreal-produced news), few other newspapers in Quebec have such resources (and TV and radio certainly don’t).
I wonder about those cities that don’t have such a strong watchdog press. As I told CJAD’s Ric Peterson the other day: who’s watching Beaconsfield City Hall? Or Repentigny City Hall? Or St. Jerome City Hall? How many skeletons do they have in their closets because the media there consist of no-budget community papers that get all their news from press releases, or big Montreal media that swoop into town for a day or two when something big catches their attention?
Lagacé thinks the Rest of Quebec should get over its inferiority complex in constantly comparing itself to Montreal. I agree. But he should also acknowledge that he and the rest of the Montreal media are part of the problem.
UPDATE: Similar thoughts from Matthieu Dugal: “nos médias sont tiers-mondistes”