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.