Why I’m not crazy about John Gomery

It was with quite a bit of fanfare last week that the Quebec Press Council announced that John Gomery would become its new president. Similar to the fanfare that came out when Gomery became the honourary somethingorother for Projet Montréal during the last municipal election campaign.

Like most people whose name isn’t Jean Chrétien, I have a good deal of respect for Gomery. He’s had a long judicial career and has built up a reputation as being a man of ethics (whether or not that reputation is deserved, I don’t know). And I have no doubt that he would bring an important legal perspective to the council, and ensure that decisions are rendered fairly and transparently.

Sure, Gomery also has a reputation for being a bit too friendly with the media, and maybe saying things he shouldn’t. But as someone who does that kind of thing all the time myself, I can hardly fault him for that.

Instead, my problem with Gomery can be summed up in six words:

John Gomery is not a journalist.

Admittedly, I’m only going by his Wikipedia page, but unless there’s something I’ve missed, his last job in anything close to a journalistic capacity was with the McGill Law Journal – half a century ago.

That lack of experience has shown in some of the comments he’s made since he was given this new post. About how he thinks everyone should be paying for news and those who “give away” their news for free are making a mistake. About his apparent dislike for blogs written by “strange people” with no credibility. About how he thinks the best way to get private broadcasters (who left the council, prompting the departure of the previous president) to come back is to act like they’re still members and keep rendering decisions on their behalf. About how he wants to “embarrass” individual journalists for the errors they commit.

While other people, including journalists, share some of these thoughts, to me they sound like the rantings of someone who has no idea how the news industry is changing and just wants kids to get off his lawn.

Perhaps I’m overreacting a bit. He won’t be the only one deciding who’s right and wrong when someone makes a complaint, and having a cool-headed lawyer to balance out the journalists might make sense. Still, I can’t help feeling that Gomery is stepping into an area that sounds familiar to him but really isn’t.

If Gomery is to take this new job seriously, he’s definitely going to have to do a lot of learning about how the news media works, and how they judge themselves.

Until then, I won’t say I hate him, I’ll just say I’m not crazy about his appointment to the council’s presidency.

Certainly not crazy enough to justify the hype.

UPDATE: It’s been pointed out to me that the position of president of the Quebec Press Council is supposed to go to a non-journalist. The point is taken, and I don’t think Gomery is a bad choice for the position. But I still worry about how he thinks he knows a lot more than he really does about the industry.

8 thoughts on “Why I’m not crazy about John Gomery

  1. wkh

    Enlighten us, what does the QPC do, what is its function supposed to be, why is it necessary, blah blah blah. Who is accountable to them? Why? Under what authority/jurisdiction? Is this group even necessary?

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      The QPC is essentially an ombudsman for its members. When someone thinks that a newspaper or other media outlet did something that violated journalistic ethics, they complain to the council, which holds an investigation. They’ll either uphold or dismiss the complaint, which has no formal weight (no fines or anything) but has a lot of moral significance (the media outlets will usually publish the decision – especially if it’s negative).

      The QPC is funded by its members, and isn’t influenced by the government, nor is membership in any way mandatory.

      Reply
  2. Goaltender Interference

    Just for boring clarification, law journals aren’t in any way journalistic. They don’t have articles by journalists publishing the latest happenings in law; rather, they publish academic research articles. So that 50-year-old experience of his doesn’t count.

    Reply
  3. Bobby

    as a strange blogger, I can’t wait until I am forced to purchase a gov’t-issued license to report on my subject of choice. Can’t happen here? ha!

    Reply
  4. David Leonardo

    I happen to know that John Gomery is a big fan of newspapers so his appointment comes with little surprise for me.

    Reply
  5. Julie

    Brilliant! John Gomery is the ideal person to head the Press Council in the new era of press responsibility and professional standards ushered in by Quan v. Cusson and Grant v. Torstar Corp. Under Gomery, journalists will be forced to take the council more seriously. The Council has, in the past, been ignored or ridiculed by journalists who prefer to judge than be judged. Also, the press council’s credibility among journalists has also suffered from the journalistic connection of many previous bosses – because journalists are naturally suspicious of colleagues who’ve left the trade. Not so Gomery, although he has a lot to lose because the media will not like his approach applied to them. I can’t wait for the first “ruling”.

    Reply

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