Enquête sur Quebecor: Good, but I expected more (UPDATED)

UPDATE (Nov. 10): More excerpts from documents cited by Enquête, and reaction in Quebecor media outlets added below, including one in English from Éric Duhaime.

“Il est aussi clair dans notre esprit qu’un groupe de presse rival peut poser un regard critique sur un autre,” Enquête host Alain Gravel writes in a blog post published hours before his show’s report on the Quebecor media empire (also viewable on tou.tv). “Ça se fait partout dans le monde. Sinon, qui pourrait le faire?”

It’s a good question. There are few journalistic enterprises here with the resources to pull it off. Maybe La Presse, but it suffers from the same problem as Radio-Canada of being a perceived enemy of Quebecor. An anglophone media outlet like the Globe and Mail or Toronto Star or Maclean’s might, but this story needed to be told in French.

Aside from La Presse and Radio-Canada, the only big media left in this province are all owned by Quebecor. And that’s kind of the point. A study by Influence Communication done for Enquête shows that these three media companies produce 83% of the journalism that Quebecers consume. Though Quebecor is the largest of these three groups, the problem of media concentration concerns all three.

Gravel pointed out right off the bat how delicate the report would be, because Quebecor owns TVA, which competes directly with Radio-Canada. It’s an important point to keep in mind, and certainly No. 1 on the list of issues Quebecor would bring up in response.

Fortunately for us, Enquête has pretty solid journalistic credentials, and isn’t about to say something unless it’s been verified.

A good summary

The hour-long report by former TVA journalist Guy Gendron, which has been on every journalist’s must-watch list for the past week provides a good summary of the issues. It describes how Quebecor pulled its big two papers out of the Quebec Press Council (and has done the same in Ontario). It talks about its penchant for using its journalistic outlets for self-promotion, using the example of the launch of Videotron’s wireless services, which was the top story on TVA’s newscast.

Most of it is stuff that journalists in Quebec (and certainly those who have a keen interest in media, like myself) already know about.

An email from Journal de Montréal entertainment editor Michelle Coudé-Lord orders the replacement of a figure in a supposedly independent ranking of cultural figures.

The best part of the report, and the one that brings up something I hadn’t already known, concerns a survey done of the most influential cultural figures in Quebec done in 2007. Emails obtained by Enquête show that entertainment editor Michelle Coudé-Lord, apparently under orders from editor-in-chief Dany Doucet, pushed for figures connected to Quebecor to be placed on this list, even though it was supposed to be drawn up by a committee of outside experts to ensure impartiality. Figures like Julie Snyder, René Angélil and Gillett Entertainment Group (now Evenko) boss Jacques Aubé were given more prominence, while 98.5 radio host Paul Arcand, Télé-Québec host and TV producer Marie-France Bazzo, author Michel Tremblay and MNBAQ chief John Porter were considered less so (in the case of the latter, Coudé-Lord apparently wrote “on s’en fout” – or “we don’t care”).

Confronted with the emails during an interview (the only one in the report in which anyone representing a Quebecor media outlet participates), Coudé-Lord didn’t deny they were hers or what was said in them, but said she didn’t remember. She also said something about not wanting to implicate her boss.

It’s telling because it shows just how far Quebecor will apparently go to manipulate its journalism to suit its own ends, how these orders seem to filter down the chain of command, but above all how petty it all seems to be. This was over what was essentially a popularity contest.

(Besides the emails, Enquête provides evidence in the pages of the newspaper itself. It shows that the list differed between the Journal de Montréal and the Journal de Québec, apparently because of last-minute changes made to the former, giving Snyder her own spot on the list at the expense of Arcand. It’s worth pointing out that this happened in the middle of the Journal de Québec lockout, which may help explain partly how this happened. The Journal de Québec version isn’t online, but the Journal de Montréal version is still on the Canoe.ca site.)

Journal de Montréal entertainment editor Michelle Coudé-Lord confronted with her emails during Enquête. Some former Journal employees particularly enjoyed seeing this.

But that was about it in terms of big revelations during the show. And though it makes Quebecor look like dicks (or, at least, the management of the Journal de Montréal – no one has really put these supposed incidents of interference any higher than the office of editor Dany Doucet), it doesn’t quite reach the level of scandal that you’d expect politicians to get up in arms about.

Politicians will have to answer for some of what was said here (at least I hope they will). It’s been alleged that the Liberals and Parti Québécois are too afraid to confront the Quebecor empire, which is why the government agreed that the public health care system should fund in vitro fertilization (a pet cause of Snyder, the conjoint of Quebecor boss Pierre Karl Péladeau), and why both parties supported using taxpayer money to fund a new sports arena in Quebec City that would be managed by Quebecor under a deal that would get special legal protection from the National Assembly.

(Incidentally, one of the scheduled interviews of PQ leader Pauline Marois on Friday is with LCN’s Jean-Luc Mongrain. Somehow I don’t expect she’ll be asked much about it there.)

A history lesson

The rest of the show focuses on explaining the nature of the Quebecor empire, talking about the News of the World scandal and Rupert Murdoch’s media empire, about the creation of the Sun News Network in Canada, and other stuff we already know.

That’s not to say such things aren’t useful (though I don’t see how this relates to Murdoch, other than Kory Teneycke wanting to model Sun News after Fox News). Looking back at the creation of Quebecor Media a decade ago reminds us about some of the things Quebecor said at the time. (For those who need a refresher: Quebecor was asked to purchase Videotron, which also owned TVA, by people who wanted to stop a planned purchase by Rogers Media and keep control of the telecom giant in Quebec. The Caisse de dépôt et placement threw in $2.2 billion so Quebecor could make the deal, and now it owns 45% of the $3-billion company.)

A hearing in front of the National Assembly looking into the Quebecor-Videotron deal has some statements from Quebecor VP Luc Lavoie that will make you laugh nowadays (emphasis mine):

Quebecor a toujours diffusé une grande diversité d’opinions dans ses publications et entend continuer à le faire dans le cadre de la création et du développement de sa nouvelle filiale Quebecor Média. Il ne serait pas dans l’intérêt de Quebecor Média qu’il en soit autrement, puisque la crédibilité de nos différents médias est à la base de leur succès.

En 1997, Quebecor s’est porté acquéreur de TQS et a pris l’engagement auprès du CRTC de respecter l’indépendance de sa salle des nouvelles. Un code de déontologie et un comité de surveillance ont été proposés et approuvés par le CRTC, et jusqu’à maintenant, l’indépendance de la salle des nouvelles de TQS a scrupuleusement été respectée.

En octobre 2000, le CRTC a renouvelé la licence de TQS, reconnaissant de ce fait que le maintien de l’indépendance de la salle des nouvelles de TQS, dont il avait fait une condition en 1997, avait été respecté.

Dans sa demande au CRTC, Quebecor Média propose d’appliquer le même modèle à TVA et au réseau LCN. Soyons clairs: la haute direction de Quebecor Média ne se mêle pas des choix d’éditoriaux et de ses propriétés. Nous n’en voyons pas l’intérêt. Notre stratégie de convergence n’implique pas une uniformisation des contenus éditoriaux de nos différentes propriétés, au contraire. Nos quotidiens sont entre les mains de professionnels de l’information tant au niveau des cadres qu’au niveau des travailleurs syndiqués. Les choix d’éditoriaux sont faits par ces professionnels et le résultat est que nos quotidiens québécois occupent les premiers rangs dans les deux marchés qu’ils desservent.

Quebecor Média continuera de respecter les engagements pris dans les contrats de travail, les engagements pris auprès du CRTC, les lois en vigueur dans le domaine de la concurrence et, surtout, elle poursuivra sa tradition de respect de la liberté d’expression.

Vous savez, on pourrait y voir quelque chose de rassurant parce que la haute direction de Quebecor, qui est une compagnie publique, est imputable à ses actionnaires de ses gestes et elle se conduit comme une entreprise commerciale qui ne se met pas les mains dans la gestion de l’information. La haute direction de Quebecor n’a pas impliquée dans les choix éditoriaux qui sont faits au quotidien, sur une base hebdomadaire ou même sur une base annuelle.

Donc, un code interentreprise, comme vous le décrivez, nous apparaît essentiellement excessif, parce que vous savez, vous avez, je crois, Mme la ministre, souligné que nous avons pris un engagement de devenir plus actifs au Conseil de presse. Donc, voilà une forme de contrôle ou, si on veut, d’examen de notre comportement.

And from others at the Quebecor table:

Or, au Journal de Montréal, nous avons les syndicats, les employés sont syndiqués pour la majeure partie et, dans leur convention collective et celle surtout avec le syndicat des journalistes, il y a les clauses corporatives qu’on appelle où il est assez clairement indiqué que ça n’est pas à l’autorité du Journal de Montréal de dicter ni plus ni moins ce que les journalistes vont faire d’une nouvelle ou d’une information quelconque. C’est déjà régi, ça.

[Note: It’s funny to see Quebecor point out the protections in the Journal de Montréal’s collective agreement, considering it was these protections that were attacked when the Journal’s employees were locked out and have since been removed from that collective agreement]

Et les journaux Quebecor vont continuer de supporter La Presse canadienne, parce que c’est notre intérêt et c’est également l’intérêt des publications au Québec, parce que, vu que c’est une coopérative, nous fournissons énormément de nouvelles à La Presse canadienne dont les petits joueurs dans les petits marchés peuvent bénéficier des nouvelles que nous fabriquons nous-mêmes. C’est un échange coopératif. Donc, c’est tout à fait clair que nous allons continuer dans cette direction.

[Note: Quebecor has, of course, pulled out of Canadian Press. But, just as important, Canadian Press is no longer a cooperative, having been privatized and now owned by a consortium controlled by Torstar, Gesca and the Globe and Mail]

le syndicat et Le Journal de Montréal … considèrent essentiel d’assurer, de préserver leur indépendance. Ils s’assureront que les informations et commentaires publiés soient exempts de pressions interne ou externe, ne soient pas influencés par ces dernières. Dans la rédaction et le choix des informations, aucun fait ne sera exagéré ou intentionnellement omis dans l’intérêt d’une personne, d’un groupe ou d’une institution. C’est l’article 7.02 de la convention qui garantit l’indépendance de la salle de rédaction.

Et le deuxième point que vous souleviez, l’échange de textes, il n’y a pas d’échange de textes entre les autres composantes du groupe. Les seuls échanges de textes qu’il y a, c’est entre Le Journal de Montréal et Le Journal de Québec. C’est garanti dans la convention collective, et ça nous permet justement de faire circuler les articles de Montréal à Québec et de Québec à Montréal. Ça a donné naissance au Journal de Québec. Ça a donné naissance à un autre journal qui, sans cette possibilité-là, n’aurait pas eu les ressources nécessaires pour le faire.

Similarly, from the CRTC hearing about Quebecor buying Videotron:

Luc Lavoie: “with the pace of the news business today and the 24-hour news channels, it would be essentially silly to ask a journalist to cover for LCN and then write a piece for the Journal de Montréal, and then write another one for a Canoe portal. It just would not work. It would turn out to be a bad product, and it would turn out to be to our disadvantage to do something like this, and we certainly won’t do it.”

Péladeau: “le fait d’avoir des conventions collectives qui existent depuis de nombreuses années au niveau des clauses professionnelles assure que le travail des journalistes doit être un travail qui va être correctement effectué”

Lavoie: “On ne veut pas se faire marginaliser. Par ailleurs, on n’a aucun espèce d’intérêt à ce que il y ait une standardisation chez nos médias parce que très souvent ils sont en — pas très souvent, pratiquement toujours, ils sont en concurrence les uns avec les autres. C’est le contenu de nos publications, c’est le contenu de notre réseau de télévision, c’est nos contenus qui fait notre force. C’est ça qui attire notre clientèle. C’est ce qui fait de nous un leader. C’est ce qui fait qu’on est le journal numéro un à Montréal et le journal numéro un à Québec. C’est ce qui fait que le réseau TVA est le numéro un et on a aucune espèce d’intention, je vous prie de me croire, de devenir numéro deux ou trois.”

Critics don’t like them, I get it

Far too much of the report, I think, is spent talking to people who wring their hands about the dangers of Quebecor. There’s Brian Myles, a Le Devoir journalist and head of the Fédération professionnelle des journalistes du Québec, who was elected to the post during the Journal de Montréal lockout and is seen as more supportive of the workers’ side. There’s John Gomery, head of the Quebec Press Council, which Quebecor pulled out of. There’s David Patry, the former Journal de Montréal reporter who worked under Coudé-Lord (and now, incidentally, works for the NDP). And there’s Raynald Leblanc, a former Journal photographer who was president of the workers’ union during the lockout.

Add to that some experts in media, and those who think they’ve been wronged by Quebecor’s media machine.

The investigation does also bring up repeated complaints at TVA (which is still a union shop), where a committee of employees said many times that coverage was being skewed to look more favourable to Quebecor’s interests. But these too can be dismissed as merely opinions (albeit of Quebecor’s own employees), not as hard evidence.

Quebecor responds, kinda

Predicting that there would be a lot of scrutiny following this report, Enquête wisely posted some documents to its website, including a response from Quebecor spokesperson Serge Sasseville (dated Feb. 21, to give an idea of how long Enquête has been working on this file) to various themes brought up in the Enquête reporting.

In it, Sasseville points out that there are other companies that are also moving in the same direction. Companies like Rogers, Bell and Shaw are creating media empires of their own. He even argues that Quebecor’s convergence model is a good thing, because it means individual voices can be saved from bankruptcy. (Of course, that argument only works if you assume Quebecor is in fact saving media that would otherwise go under).

Besides, Sasseville says, the Internet makes the whole concentration of media ownership debate moot.

Sasseville also defends the kinds of things that journalists and others deplore. He says it’s perfectly normal for management to dictate what gets published in a newspaper. He defends the withdrawal from the Quebec Press Council (though he notes that Quebecor’s weeklies are still members through Hebdos Québec) by arguing that its decisions are arbitrary and don’t respect previous precedents, and Quebecor’s attempts to change the way the council functions has failed.

And he defends the creation of QMI Agency by pointing out that the large newspaper chain Postmedia (which owns my employer, The Gazette) also pulled out of Canadian Press and created its own wire service. He argues that sharing content frees journalists to work on valuable original reporting instead of duplicating the work of others working for the same company.

You can read the full response here. It doesn’t address some of the specific allegations made in the Enquête report, so it will be interesting to see if there’s a public statement coming on the matter.

In the meantime, some commenters on Gravel’s blog asked if they plan to look into the “secret deal” between Radio-Canada and La Presse owner Gesca. I certainly wouldn’t discourage them from doing so, but unless they come up with something really scandalous, any report will be dismissed by Quebecor’s defenders as biased journalism.

Besides, one would think Quebecor Media would be best placed to investigate such a thing. As soon as they find something, I have no doubt it’ll get lots of coverage in their various media.

Worries from TVA

Another thing posted to Enquête’s website are the minutes of committee meetings at TVA from 2009 and 2010. The Comité professionnel, as it’s called, has representatives of the employees and management, and deals with issues of journalistic integrity, as well as other union issues. The minutes suggest serious concerns from the employees about interference from Quebecor, though many of these are up for debate.

Among their concerns, in 2009:

  • Too much emphasis is placed on exclusives or special reports, even to the point of playing them ahead of more important news of the day (TVA management said they don’t want to have the same news as their competitors)
  • LCN reporters were forbidden from speaking about an ad from the Directeur général des élections that seemed to parody LCN host Jean-Luc Mongrain (TVA management said they didn’t want to pour oil on the fire and were pursuing the matter legally)
  • TVA reporters were forbidden from speaking about Guy Laliberté’s show from space, which aired on Radio-Canada. (TVA management said it was Laliberté that didn’t cooperate with its journalists because of the deal with Radio-Canada, and it was “normal” not to talk about such an event in that case.)
  • Argent reporters were told that negotiations at the locked-out Journal de Montréal were not a story, while negotiations at La Presse (Gesca) were. (TVA management said the Gesca news was given prominence because it was an exclusive)
  • Management dictated to the letter how LCN dealt with revelations of former Ville-Marie borough mayor Benoit Labonté were covered the day after they were made on Radio-Canada. (TVA management said they were worried about a lawsuit)
  • The Agence QMI brand was taking over existing ones, even TVA, even though “Agence QMI” doesn’t mean anything to the average person. (TVA management said Quebecor was building up the QMI brand, though credit should be properly attributed to TVA for stories coming out of the network.)
  • Argent employees felt in general the business information network was being used as a conduit for pro-Quebecor news (and news against its competitors). (TVA management denied the claim.)
  • Employees felt TVA gave undue attention in its news to products for sale, particularly those connected to Quebecor (like a DVD of the TVA show Dieu Merci)

And in 2010:

  • News from QMI was considered so unreliable that reporters were hesitant to use them on short notice. (TVA management said QMI was working on improving quality.)
  • TVA employees claimed Agence QMI was telling them what to report on. (TVA management said such a thing should never happen, though the two should work together.)
  • Employees denounced the use of QMI reporters (who write texts) in place of TVA journalists (who are trained in television). (TVA management said they won’t send two reporters to cover the same event if it’s a minor one – like the premier making an uninteresting trip to another country.)
  • TVA and LCN prioritized multiplatform exclusives (published at the same time in the Journal de Montréal, 24 Heures and other Quebecor media), even if they were not the most important news of the day. (TVA management said they should prioritize exclusives.)
  • TVA and LCN employees found there was bias ordered by management in reporting about issues affecting Quebecor, including undue emphasis on events like:
    • The launch of Videotron’s wireless service
    • The 10th anniversary of Quebecor’s purchase of Videotron
    • The creation of Sun News Network
    • Statements made by Pierre Karl Péladeau
    • The Marche bleue in Quebec City calling for the return of the Nordiques (in an arena controlled by Quebecor)
  • The launch of a paper edition of Rue Frontenac was ignored, and other events concerning the Journal de Montréal lockout were similarly ignored or downplayed, sometimes on direct orders from management. (TVA management said the paper launch could have been mentioned, but it’s a delicate issue because it involves a Quebecor company)
  • Argent employees felt they were attacking the same targets, apparent enemies of Quebecor (including the Caisse de dépôt, which is ironic since it owns 45% of Quebecor Media). (TVA management said the network should be critical of such institutions.)
  • Employees denounced pulling out of the Quebec Press Council, asking if Quebecor thought it was above criticism. (TVA management answered that Quebecor felt the council was biased against it, and that TVA is still bound by the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council.)
  • LCN reported on events from the Série Montréal-Québec, a TVA hockey reality show, in its sports segment, which employees felt was wrong. (TVA management agreed, though each side blamed the other for it having aired.)

Will it change anything?

That’s the big question. Will this result in any changes? I doubt Quebecor is going to change anything here. There’s nothing in this report they didn’t already know (though maybe someone will look into the Journal de Montréal situation described above). They believe they’re in the right here, and none of the academics or disgruntled former journalists interviewed by Enquête are going to change their minds.

Quebecor is probably going to respond to this either by ignoring it or by attacking hard. Either way, there won’t be changes.

Politicians might take some heat, and some might even decide that going to war with Quebecor is a necessary evil, assuming the public supports them in the battle and is willing to look past the Quebecor backlash.

The public certainly isn’t going to change. Those who hated Quebecor before will continue to do so. Those who apologize for Quebecor because they hate Radio-Canada will continue to do so. And those who subscribe to Videotron for their telecom services won’t care about how Quebecor’s journalism works, so long as they get their à la carte HD channels.

In the words of Coudé-Lord: On s’en fout.

Enquête reaction:

  • Richard Therrien, Le Soleil: “le reportage de Guy Gendron ne ressemblait pas à un règlement de comptes”
  • Hugo Dumas, La Presse: “Une question, maintenant: de quelle façon Quebecor va-t-il contre-attaquer? L’empire n’a pas l’habitude de se laisser administrer des taloches publiquement.”
  • Clique du Plateau: “Si c’était pas un règlement de compte, on se demande bien ce que c’était”
  • Renart Léveillé: “Cette émission était très attendue et elle ne semble pas avoir déçu beaucoup de monde : les commentaires que j’ai pu lire étaient tous très positifs “
  • Cassandra Brisebois, ComMédia: Le slogan de Quebecor devrait être : « Tu es avec nous ou contre nous. Tu es notre ami ou notre ennemi ».
  • Grégoire F.W.: “Nous ne sommes plus informés, nous sommes manipulés ; nous sommes à la merci de puissants groupes qui contrôlent l’information”
  • ProjetJ (written before the show aired)
  • Rue Frontenac (under its new management): “Loin de moi de faire ici l’apologie de Pierre-Karl Péladeau. Mais je me suis interrogé sur les reproches constants que l’on dirige à l’endroit de la notion de convergence. La convergence en elle-même n’est pas mauvaise en soi.”
  • Martin Lavallée (in a letter to Le Devoir): “Cette émission ne possédait pas vraiment d’intérêt public, contrairement à la prétention de la SRC et d’Alain Gravel. Par contre, il serait sans doute d’intérêt public d’enquêter sur l’empire Power Corporation et sur son influence sur la politique du Québec”

The journalist Guy Gendron was also interviewed Friday morning on Radio-Canada radio, where naturally he was treated with kid gloves and wasn’t challenged on anything.

Mario Dumont, who as a host on V is somewhat neutral ground, gave him a bit harder time, saying that Radio-Canada was biased against him when he was leader of the ADQ. Gendron responded to most of his questions by saying he’s not a spokesperson for Radio-Canada and can’t answer for anything outside his report.

CIBL 101.5 interviewed Guy Amyot of the Conseil de presse, who said we have to look at questions surrounding concentration of media ownership.

Quebecor’s own media has been completely mostly silent on the matter (which suggests to me that they have nothing obvious to challenge about the reporting), aside from an article from Guy Fournier in the Journal de Montréal pre-attacking the show before the report aired. Fournier followed up in the next week’s column, correcting an error he made (Gendron worked for TVA before it was bought by Quebecor, so Gendron never actually worked for Quebecor), and possibly sarcastically correcting another error that was more exaggerated hyperbole about how Radio-Canada never apologizes. He also suggests that Enquête spent too long discussing the phone hacking scandal in Britain, something that other TV critics also panned in their criticisms of the report.

Doucet responds

UPDATE (Nov. 8): Sunday’s Journal de Montréal contains a letter from Doucet. It’s not online, but I hope he doesn’t mind if I reproduce it here in its entirety:

Enquête : danger ignoré

Nous n’aimons pas donner des leçons de journalisme aux autres, contrairement à nos confrères de la société d’État Radio-Canada, mais l’un des pires dangers dans ce métier, c’est d’échafauder une hypothèse et de trouver des témoignages pour l’appuyer, tout en fermant les yeux sur ceux qui pourraient la démolir.

L’émission Enquête, diffusée sur les ondes de Radio-Canada jeudi dernier, consacrée à Quebecor, a utilisé les pires subterfuges pour étayer sa théorie sur la trop forte influence de Quebecor, incluant de piéger notre collègue Michelle Coudé-Lord avec de vieux courriels. L’idée était simple : provoquer la surprise, l’hésitation et ainsi obtenir des images qui viennent appuyer le propos. Mais qui peut se souvenir à brûle-pour-point d’un courriel vieux de quatre ans ?

C’est ce même journaliste de la SRC, Guy Gendron, qui avait déjà déclaré, le 15 février 2007, qu’il existe “une stratégie de l’empire Quebecor visant à jeter le discrédit sur Radio-Canada”. Nous avions prévenu la direction de la société d’État que son journaliste avait déjà une opinion personnelle bien arrêtée, qu’il y avait donc un danger de partialité.

Nos avertissements ont été ignorés et c’est donc sans surprise que nous avons assisté, jeudi soir, à un reportage tellement orienté, si loin de la réalité, qu’il est inutile d’en rajouter.

Dany Doucet,

Vice-président Information, Sun Media Québec

You’ll note that Doucet doesn’t challenge a single fact in the Enquête report, preferring an ad hominem attack.

Why not investigate Power Corp.?

His letter was beneath another one from Léo-Paul Lauzon attacking Power Corp., saying Enquête should do an investigation on how they prevent their media outlets (La Presse and other Gesca papers) from reporting on Alberta oilsands, which Power Corp. has an interest in, and how the majority of opinions printed in the papers are in favour of privatization of public companies.

I can’t speak for opinions, people are allowed to have them, and it’s true that columnists will tend to have political views in line with their employers (how many liberal and social-democratic columnists does Sun Media employ compared to their conservative ones?). As for their reporting on oilsands, I’ll point you to the La Presse dossier on the subject and let you judge for yourself whether it’s biased in favour of the industry.

The only thing I would say is that, while I don’t have tons of friends at La Presse, I haven’t heard a story, even on the grapevine, of a journalist feeling they had to adjust or spin their reporting to reflect the wishes or financial interests of Power Corp.

A reference to oilsands is also kind of ironic in that it was the same journalist, Guy Gendron, who did a report for Zone Libre Enquêtes in 2007 about the Alberta oilsands. That report was slammed by the Journal de Montréal’s Dany Bouchard for being a vengeful hit piece against the Harper government, resulting in Gendron filing a complaint against Bouchard at the Quebec Press Council. Despite Bouchard’s protests (this was back when the Journal was a cooperating member), the complaint was upheld in its entirety.

Monday’s paper had another letter, from Benoît Élie, condemning the Enquête report because it was only negative against Quebecor and didn’t mention any positive things they had done, like giving financial aid to Le Devoir to keep it afloat.

Sophie Durocher responds, too

Another response to the Enquête piece in the Quebecor empire came from Sophie Durocher, the columnist for the Journal de Montréal, Journal de Québec, Clin d’Oeil and 7 Jours, and host of her own show on Videotron community channel Vox. (All of these are Quebecor-owned media.) She writes in Monday’s JdeM and JdeQ that it’s Power Corp. that has the worrisome media ownership issues, and suggests that Radio-Canada is intentionally avoiding talking about it, using as proof an author who wrote a book about Power Corp. but wasn’t invited to talk about it on any Radio-Canada shows.

Durocher also repeats the Richard Martineau talking point that Gesca owns 7 of 10 daily newspapers in Quebec. I’ve already discredited that before, but to resummarize: There are 14 daily newspapers in Quebec, if you include Ottawa’s Le Droit but exclude the Ottawa Citizen. Durocher and Martineau exclude the two anglophone dailies and (inexplicably) the two free newspapers in Montreal. And the Enquête report addresses relative size when it points out the Influence Communication study, showing Quebecor with a much higher influence than either Gesca or Radio-Canada.

And Durocher suggests the FPJQ has been bought by saying Gesca and Radio-Canada are sponsors of their upcoming conference. That’s true, but it’s perfectly normal for a journalism conference to be sponsored by organizations that do journalism. And Reader’s Digest, Astral, Rogers and Transcontinental Media are also sponsors, on the same level as Radio-Canada. Quebecor chose not to co-sponsor the event, and now one of its journalists is using that as a talking point.

Éric Duhaime weighs in

On Thursday, a week after the Enquête report, Sun Media’s resident Quebec expert Éric Duhaime devoted his national newspaper column to attacking it. Like his fellow columnists, Duhaime doesn’t challenge a single fact in the report, but says it’s a reason the CBC should be defunded by the government.

Duhaime’s column also contains factual errors:

  1. Like Durocher, Duhaime says Gesca owns seven of 10 daily newspapers in Quebec. This is not true.
  2. Duhaime repeats the “secret deal” talking point, saying it was revealed through an access-to-information request. The “secret deal” between CBC and Gesca is actually a 2001 agreement that focuses mainly on marketing and specifically says that editorial content will remain separate. The deal expired long ago and has never been renewed. And to call it secret is ridiculous because it was announced in a press release when it was signed.
  3. Duhaime says the “provincial celebrity” list (it was actually a list of the most influential people in the cultural realm) was first published in the Journal de Québec. It was actually published simultaneously in the Journal de Québec and Journal de Montréal.
  4. Duhaime says the order was to replace “a radio host” (Paul Arcand) by Céline Dion. Actually, the email Coudé-Lord sent said to replace Arcand by Jacques Aubé of Gillett Entertainment Group. The differences between the Journal de Montréal version and Journal de Québec version is that the JdM deletes Arcand (No. 7), inserts Julie Snyder separately at No. 6, bumping the rest of the list down (Yannick Nézet-Séguin takes over No. 7, from No. 6 in the JdQ), and Jacques Aubé becomes No. 8 in the JdM. The rest of the list shifts by one, knocking off the last name, Marie Chouinard, from the Journal de Montréal list.

Investigate everyone

That said, a lot of people not under the employ of Quebecor are also asking why Enquête doesn’t do a report on Gesca, Bell, Rogers or other large media companies. I say: Go ahead and investigate. I’m sure there are plenty of skeletons in the closets of these companies that should come out. And don’t leave it to Enquête. There are other investigative journalists out there (some even work for Quebecor), and nobody is stopping them from pursuing their own investigations. Frankly, I’d be shocked if there wasn’t a journalist for Quebecor somewhere already investigating Power Corp., and we know from their hundreds of access-to-information requests that they’re investigating Radio-Canada.

But suggesting that Enquête shouldn’t talk about Quebecor unless it investigates other media is like suggesting a journalist shouldn’t release details of wrongdoing in the Charest government without first finding evidence of wrongdoing in all the opposition parties.

I spoke to Gendron, and asked him if Enquête plans an investigation into Gesca or Power Corp. He said Enquête doesn’t comment on or confirm its investigations before they air, but there’s nothing stopping them from doing such an investigation.

Report was ready in spring

Incidentally, I asked Gendron why there was so much time between the interview with former Journal de Montréal journalist David Patry and the response from Quebecor, in February, and the airing of the report.

Gendron said the report had been ready to air in spring, but was held because of a defamation suit by Quebecor boss Pierre Karl Péladeau against Radio-Canada boss Sylvain Lafrance. By the time that had resolved itself, it was too late for that season of Enquête. The report was held until fall, and updated with information about the News of the World scandal, the launch of Sun News Network and the pullout of Sun Media from the Ontario Press Council.

The updates lengthened the report, Gendron said, so it filled the full hour when it was eventually aired.

28 thoughts on “Enquête sur Quebecor: Good, but I expected more (UPDATED)

  1. maddy

    First time I am writing to you. But I couldn’t help it — I need to tell you what I have thought about you and your site for YEARS.

    Your perspective is invaluable in this market. You are astute, refined, well-informed and have a spectacular skill at making complicated media stuff simple and easy to digest.

    You rock.

    Your latest article on Enqete/Quebecor was spot on. It helped us understand the story behind the story, the impact of what was presented to us, and we got your valuable knowledge on what is new in this report, and what isn’t.

    Thanks for your work. I am sure there are a whole pile of people out there like me: worshipping your work from afar. Keep it up.

    1. Fagstein Post author

      How’d that first comment slip through the approval process?

      Obviously I paid for it.

      (But seriously, a lot of the comment spam coming in these days is of the “I love your blog” nature, using vague praise with poor grammar to try to get approved. But this comment didn’t fit that profile, even if it was caught in the spam filter.)

      1. AlexH

        That is a wordpress issue – spammers looking for blogs that automatically approve comments, so they can gain spam backlinks to their sites… usually scam products and virus installers.

  2. Vince Delagray

    les courriels de Doucet/Coudé-Lord (même média, JdeMtl) vs les courriels de Cantin/Tourangeau (deux médias, quoique “Radio-Gesca”). Qu’est-ce qui est mieux ? Lequel mérite aussi d’être “enquêté” ? Ou est la FPJQ ? Ou est le juge Gomery ? Ou est la ministre St-Pierre, elle-même un ex de la SRC ? Enquêtons, mais enquêtons égal… http://www.lequebecois.org/chroniques/propagande-federaliste/radio-canada-et-la-manipulation-de-linformation

  3. Jimmy Jack

    What is the difference between what Quebecor does and CFCF opening the 6 pm news with feel good stories about other entities in the bell empire or the whats on CTV tonight ads in heavy rotation on the team 990 or the biggest scam of all, save local tv? I don’t trust either. But, I read the Journal far more often lately than the Gazette, even though my french comprehension isn’t the best because way better sports and business coverage.

    1. Fagstein Post author

      What is the difference between what Quebecor does and CFCF opening the 6 pm news with feel good stories about other entities in the bell empire

      I don’t know to what you’re referring here. What feel-good stories?

      or the whats on CTV tonight ads in heavy rotation on the team 990

      CTV also promotes its newscasts on CJAD. But yeah, CTV and Team 990 do a lot of cross-promotional advertising. I don’t take too much issue with advertising. It’s when it interferes with journalism that there’s a problem.

      or the biggest scam of all, save local tv?

      Were there any allegations of direct interference in journalism to further this cause? All I remember about how that campaign affected local stations was that it brought the first open house. Even if we accept there was undue interference, I’d think it was the exception more than the rule.

      And even if it wasn’t, I think we should look seriously at these issues, whether they affect Quebecor, Gesca, Bell or any other media conglomerate.

      1. Jimmy Jack

        A few months ago CFCF filled the first minute of the six o’clock news with real stories, then had a 10 minute story on CTV’s new fall schedule launch party complete with interviews of CFCF management. As it were it was the first time I had watched CFCF news in months as I had had enough of the self congratulatory crap over their so called 50th anniversary. I want news not fluff not constant self aggrandizing.

        1. Ibrahim

          I know for a fact that CFCF was forced by Toronto to run bogus 50th anniversary specials back in 2007. They were a MUST RUN for all of CTV’s local stations. Problem was, CFCF was only 46 years old at the time. It was a transparent ploy by CTV to drum up public support among viewers and on Parliament Hill for that “fee for carriage” campaign.

          Then, just this past year, CFCF did its own “real” 50th anniversary specials that were locally assigned and produced and were simply a well-deserved celebration of this important anglo institution.

          So yes, direct editorial interference happens in other media, not just Quebecor.

  4. sco100

    Except for Coudé-Lord’s e-mail trove, it was little more than what’s been discussed here for years.

    Frankly, I was hoping for more.

  5. Jean Naimard

    What is the difference between what Quebecor does and CFCF opening the 6 pm news with feel good stories about other entities in the bell empire.

    The Bell and others empires are just as bad as Pédaleau’s or worse, because, unlike Pédaleau, they cover ad mare usque ad mare.

    But one reason why Pédaleau appears “worse” is that by being french, it does things bluntly, in a smack-in-the-face way. After all, we, the french, are direct, and don’t have the stab-in-the-back stealthy hypocrisy of the english.

    Press concentration is an evil that must be broken, because it is the direst, most direct threat to Democracy. And no, the intarwebs won’t change much, because as much as you can blog about a pet peeve, “on s’en fout” if nobody reads about it.

    Who goes sleuthing about in obscure blogs when it’s so easy to waste time on Fesse-Bouc???

    1. Fagstein Post author

      But one reason why Pédaleau appears “worse” is that by being french, it does things bluntly, in a smack-in-the-face way. After all, we, the french, are direct, and don’t have the stab-in-the-back stealthy hypocrisy of the english.

      Isn’t the Desmarais family, which owns Gesca, accused of exactly that, being “stealthy” and hiding?

      I think the difference between Quebecor and other Canadian media empires is that Quebecor is accused of interfering directly in journalism under its control, while for other media the effects are more subtle. The attitude of Pierre Karl Péladeau is a large part of that.

      1. sco100

        To me, assigning a journalist to cover a particular topic (rather than another one the journalist might have picked if left to his own devices) can’t possibly be seen as interference. And that’s mostly what we hear about when journalists complain about undue influence from company executives at Quebecor. And by company executives, they typically mean their editor-in-chief, whose precise job it is to steer the ship and give the paper a specific flavour.

        Doesn’t it speak for itself when the best example of interference they can come up with is an already-arbitrary list of cultural heavyweights having been “tampered with” back in 2007? Not exactly electoral fraud on a grand scale, is it? That wasn’t even hard news to start with. David Patry makes it sound like he was raped in a broom closet when all that really happened was rather less traumatic, to say the least.

        Whatever story you get assigned to, the important thing is that the journalism is sound in the end. The actual nature of the story can reflect the papers’ (or its parent company’s) priorities and leanings, that’s a given, and that’s neither illegal nor even unethical.

      2. Jean Naimard

        Desmarais comes from Ontario (Sudbury), and so, he had plenty of exposure to the ways the english deal in business. In addition, Desmarais started by doing the grunt work (he’d often drive the buses — even if he didn’t even have a license!)…

        Pédaleau, on the other hand, is a spoiled-rotten brat with a trophy wife with all the bluntness of a backhoe on steroids harvesting raspberries; that’s the big difference.

        I am sure that the Desmarais recoil in horror at the mere thought of Pédaleau and for that (and that alone), I fully emphatize with them.

        1. Fagstein Post author

          Desmarais comes from Ontario (Sudbury), and so, he had plenty of exposure to the ways the english deal in business.

          So Desmarais is actually not truly French. Got it. Obviously.

          1. Jean Naimard

            So Desmarais is actually not truly French. Got it. Obviously.

            Aren’t we getting a wee-bit paranoid, here? I never said that, I just said he got more exposure to the english.

    2. sco100

      Since when does speaking French grant one an absolute air of authenticity and straightforwardness? That’s utter bullshit. If anything, it’s the English language in its contemporary form that’s usually praised for its directness and clarity. French is certainly well suited for obsequiousness and devious praise, but I don’t associate it with bluntness or any sort of overly-in-your-face approach. On the contrary.

      Where did that come from?

        1. sco100

          I saw “Ridicule” 15 years ago. Pretty good, but I fail to see how that reference reinforces your position, namely that French is somehow a morally superior language with built-in clarity. If memory serves, the whole movie was about courtiers keeping up appearances and maintaining their edge in a world where words had become weapons of choice in a pointless war over the king’s affections.

    3. Jimmy Jack

      “After all, we, the french, are direct, and don’t have the stab-in-the-back stealthy hypocrisy of the english”

      True and speaking only for myself, I appreciate “the french” telling me “the english” right to my face. I wouldn’t want any confusion.

  6. AlexH

    It’s a great story, both what was put on the air and your ripping apart of it.

    For me, the biggest concern with Quebecor (or Bell, or Rogers, etc) is that they have become effectively both horizontal and vertical market providers, to the point where, except for what the government mandates, they don’t really need to deal with anyone else. They can pull it off in house. Quebecor gets to double dip by being in both print and television, so they can really push it along. They can use QMI to feed all sides of their media outlets, avoiding costly duplication. Moreover, by owning Videotron, they can assure carriage of their products to the vast majority of Quebecers. Essentially, Quebecor is “media” for Quebec, with few real exceptions in the French marketplace.

    I personally would like to see the (currently neutered) CRTC step up and start demanding that these media companies divest themselves of assets, to allow other players in the game. The broadcasters should not be allowed to own and control the distribution systems (cable, satellite), nor should they be the principal providers and owners of all of the speciality channels in play. Quebecor’s situation is particularly galling, because they own so much of the media in Quebec that they are effectively unavoidable. Their powerful position makes it almost impossible for new media to come out in Quebec without there being problems. About the only bright light is in printing, where Transcontinental at least keeps things possible. But if you want to launch a French language speciality channel, you will be dealing with Videotron and unless mandated by the CRTC, it won’t be easy!

    Until Canada moves to break up the concentration of Media, especially in Quebec, we are doomed to get the sorts of preference and influence that is cited in the article. It isn’t always blatant, but it clearly is there, all the time.

    1. Jean Naimard

      I personally would like to see the (currently neutered) CRTC step up and start demanding that these media companies divest themselves of assets, to allow other players in the game. The broadcasters should not be allowed to own and control the distribution systems (cable, satellite), nor should they be the principal providers and owners of all of the speciality channels in play.

      Until Canada moves to break up the concentration of Media, especially in Quebec, we are doomed to get the sorts of preference and influence that is cited in the article. It isn’t always blatant, but it clearly is there, all the time.

      With the Canadian Reform Alliance Party in power in Ottawa, it’s gonna be a cold day in hell when media moguls are broken-up…

      1. Jimmy Jack

        Well considering most “Canadian Reform Alliance Party” supporters can’t stand CTV as much they hate on for the CBC, you never know.

  7. BOBBY b

    Journal de Montreal sunday edition has a nice attack job on the cbc journalist who was pointing out a few of the blatant inconsistencies of Quebecor’s evil-empire cbc/rc-is-bad point of view.

  8. Anonymous

    I couldn’t refrain from laughing when I read this from Dany Doucet:

    “l’un des pires dangers dans ce métier, c’est d’échafauder une hypothèse et de trouver des témoignages pour l’appuyer, tout en fermant les yeux sur ceux qui pourraient la démolir.”

    This is EXACTLY how it worked at Le Journal in the years coming on to the lock-out, and it had been decried many times by the reporters. I wish I had kept reports from the Information committee of Le Journal (which was somewhat like the TVA committee). You would have seen stories like this too. The main thing reporters were complaining could be summarized as “getting assigned to a title”.

    Basically, a boss would wake up one morning with this idea of what would be a great front page or a great page 3 and ask the reporter to fill the space under the title he had already in mind. This included, many times, calling 10 experts, 9 of them saying “white” and only 1 saying “black”, but keeping only (or mostly) quotes from the “black” one, because that’s the one that fitted the title.

    Presented with evidence of this, Mr Doucet would agree it shouldn’t be done, but never did anything against the culprits, who where easily identifiable, one of them being Michelle Coudé-Lord.

    1. sco100

      And yet, look at what has become of Rue Frontenac…

      From a commercial standpoint, looks like Doucet et al. have grasped a few things you haven’t.


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