Tag Archives: Quebec Press Council

Quebec Press Council roundup

The Quebec Press Council has released its latest decisions on public complaints about journalists. Here’s a roundup of some of those and earlier ones I haven’t talked about yet that have been released since January:

Jean-Marc Fortier v. Louis Poulin/”Cool FM” CKRB-FM

Fortier issued a complaint to both the press council and the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council against Poulin for saying a swear word on air on May 1, 2009. Specifically, he’s quoted as saying “Je vais le dire là parce que je le pense : ç’a pas de chrisse de bon sens.”

The CBSC found against the station for using the swear word on air, forcing it to air its decision. But the press council found nothing wrong with it (it’s not the council’s job to police profanity). What the press council did have a problem with was the fact that the station refused to cooperate with the council and hand over a recording of what was broadcast.

That refusal is probably related to a general feeling among private broadcasters that the press council is redundant, since they already have to submit to the CBSC. Astral, TQS, RDS and others raised a stink about it a little over a year ago, causing the council to respond that it would act on complaints even if the media outlets in question aren’t members and refuse to cooperate.

Charles Lespérance vs. La Presse

Lespérance took issue with an article by Éric Clément published in La Presse on July 9, 2009, about a city employee losing a case before the labour board. Lespérance’s issue was that La Presse slapped the label “EXCLUSIF” on top of it, which was particularly embarrassing for the paper because the Journal de Montréal came out with the same news on the same day. Lespérance said calling it an exclusive was sensationalistic, inaccurate and dishonest.

The council agreed only that the label was inaccurate, and that while there can never be any guarantees that news labelled “exclusive” is truly so, a news outlet should only use the term when there’s a “very strong probability” that they’re the only ones to have access to the information. Since the news in question here was a ruling by a government body that was freely available online, the council found La Presse clearly jumped the gun.

Coverage from Le Devoir and Radio-Canada.

Front commun des personnes assistées sociales du Québec vs. Stefan Dupont/CHOI-FM

If you’re aware of the parties involved, the nature of the complaint is hardly surprising: the complainants took issue with Dupont’s comments about government handouts to people on welfare and other forms of social assistance on March 10, 2009.

CHOI refused to respond to the complaint. It too chose only to cooperate with the CBSC. The council nevertheless found against it.

Coverage from Le Devoir, Le Soleil, Rue Frontenac and the Journal de Québec (which quotes Dupont saying he’s not a journalist and so shouldn’t have to answer to the conseil de presse). And a response from the front commun.

Alexandre Popovic vs. Richard Martineau/Journal de Montréal

Popovic complains about a column Martineau wrote that was published in the Journal last August, just after the one year anniversary of the death of Fredy Villanueva in Montreal North. Martineau condemns a march that took place on the anniversary because police arrested one person who had the components of a molotov cocktail in his backpack. Popovic accused Martineau of launching stereotypes against the protesters and using one incident to unfairly tar the entire event in bad faith (Popovic is a spokesperson for the group that organized the march).

The paper responded that Martineau is a columnist and free to have his own opinions and use hypothetical scenarios to make a point. The council ruled that Martineau has the right to his own opinions, but not his own facts, and that making an “abusive generalization” was not something he was entitled to do.

Coverage from Rue Frontenac (naturally).

Montreal mayor’s cabinet vs. Éric Clément/La Presse

Another Éric Clément EXCLUSIF, this one about a member of Montreal’s executive committee, André Lavallée, having been once a member of the Front de libértion du Québec. The cabinet, acting on Lavallée’s behalf, complained to the council that La Presse was sensationalizing this information because it was already public knowledge (a fact Clément reported on in a follow-up piece). The complaint accused Clément and La Presse of bad faith, and of getting wrong the fact that Lavallée was “breaking his silence” because people had already known about his past with the FLQ.

The council rejected the complaint, noting that Lavallée’s past was not in fact public knowledge, and had not been brought up in his previous election campaigns.

Fernand Ouellet vs. Jean-Luc Mongrain/LCN

Ouellet complained that Mongrain invited only the two main candidates – Gérald Tremblay and Louise Harel – to a debate during the last municipal election. He accused Mongrain and LCN of depriving the public of information they could have used to cast an informed vote.

Even though LCN refused to cooperate (TVA is no longer a member of the council), the council rejected the complaint, ruling that it was reasonable to invite only the two leading candidates, and in any event Projet Montréal leader Richard Bergeron was also invited to his show on another date and was given an opportunity to make his case.

Victor-Lévy Beaulieu vs. Marc Cassivi/La Presse

Beaulieu, a well-known writer, complains of a piece from Cassivi published Oct. 22, 2009, that accuses Beaulieu of xenophobia based on an email Beaulieu sent out.

The council wouldn’t rule on whether the accusation was defamatory (that’s an issue for the courts), and did caution that “xenophobic” was a strong word to use, but nevertheless dismissed the complaint.

Haydar Moussa vs. Lisa Lise Ravary/Châtelaine

Moussa complained that a piece in the magazine and a blog post on the website by Ravary in March 2008 that had “inexact” and “incomplete” information that Moussa says indirectly ties him to Hezbollah. The council found that Ravary’s criticisms of a poem by Moussa were not inappropriate (and, in fact, she wasn’t the only person to criticize him) and rejected the complaint, even though Châtelaine did not cooperate with the council.

Falun Dafa of Canada vs. Solveig Miller/Radio-Canada Enquête

The group complained about a report from 2008 which it thought was biased against it. The complaint listed more than 20 issues with the report, mostly about presenting information incorrectly or in a biased way. The council analyzed the report and found Enquête was justified in almost everything it said. The only complaint it agreed with was that the report did not properly explain why the group refused to be interviewed for the story on camera.

Luc Archambault vs. Martin Ouellet/Presse Canadienne

Archambault complained about PC’s coverage of an open letter he wrote to Paul McCartney (PDF) as the former Beatle was appearing at the 400th anniversary celebrations of Quebec City. Archambault’s main complaint was that it was referred to as a “petition”.

PC’s response was that it was posted to a petition website (lapetition.be) and invited people to sign it.

The council dismissed the complaint, judging the error to be minor.

Gilles Rhéaume vs. Josh Freed/The Gazette

Rhéaume complained about a column by Freed called “Politics ruin the party” (my headline). I summarized the complaint here. In short, Freed made a reference to the “Apostrophe SS” in a column, which refers to the language police and its alleged Nazi-like zeal to eliminate apostrophe-S-es from commercial signs. This was interpreted by francophones (including Rhéaume) as comparing the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste and other sovereignists to SS officers, which isn’t precisely what he was doing. Nevertheless, Freed made a clarification in the following week’s column.

The council, explaining what the reference meant and noting that it was an old anglophone joke, dismissed the complaint.

Coverage in The Gazette.

Montreal mayor’s cabinet vs. André Noël/La Presse

This complain centres mainly around a headline used for Noël’s story about an SQ investigation into corruption involving a contract to renovate city hall. The Page A1 teaser to the story said the SQ had opened an investigation and “Les personnes visées sont cette fois deux élus de l’équipe du maire Tremblay et des membres de la mafia.”

The article is mainly about a complaint made to the SQ by an entrepreneur who said he was threatened by members of the mafia. The complaint argued that this was not sufficient evidence of corruption and the paper attacked the mayor’s reputation with what was essentially a single-source story.

The council found that the journalist had multiple sources for the main fact of the story – that a complaint had been filed – and dismissed the complaint. However, there was a dissenting opinion in this case, arguing that the allegations tying the mayor and his party to the mafia should have been verified with another source before they were published, and that by giving a blanket disclaimer that some of the information had been verified and some had not, La Presse was depriving its readers of information about what the paper considered true and what it wasn’t able to verify.

Conseil d’assainissement et d’aménagement du ruisseau Lacorne vs. Pierre Limoges/Le Bruchésien

The group complained about articles Limoges wrote for the monthly publication attacking it over the issue of whether the walleye fish could live in the ruisseau Lacorne. It accused him of imprecisely blaming agriculture for polluting the water, for being offensive, sensationalistic, being in a conflict of interest because of his political affiliations years earlier, and of being motivated by a personal conflict and a desire to attack the reputation of a member of the group.

The council dismissed most of the complaints, refused to tackle the legal issue of defamation, and upheld only that the article should have been more accurate about the cause of pollution – there were both agricultural and urban sources, according to a cited study.

The council also raised a big red flag over something it discovered through the investigation – that Limoges lifted passages during his research and used them in his articles without citing sources. Plagiarism is a big no-no for the press council. It also cited him for taking on roles on both sides of the advertising-editorial divide at his publication, which raises ethical issues and is normally to be avoided, even at publications with a small staff.

Harold C. Lehrer vs. Eric-Olivier Dallard/Accès Laurentides

Lehrer’s complaint wasn’t about an article in the community paper, but in the Page 1 headline used to tease it: “Les juifs de Val-David condamnés”. Not only was this incorrect (Jews weren’t forced to pay anything, it was a particular congregation that was fined), but it was also, you know, racist.

The paper’s excuse basically came down to the requirement to have a short headline. The council didn’t buy it, and ruled against the paper, which it also condemned for refusing to issue any correction or clarification on the matter when asked.

Coverage from Le Devoir.

Marc-Aimé Guérin vs. Vincent Brousseau-Pouliot/La Presse

Guérin complained about Brousseau-Pouliot’s coverage of Martine Landry, a former erotic dancer who won a case against the Canada Revenue Agency. In the initial article and a follow-up, Guérin says the journalist got important facts wrong, that he should not have named Landry to maintain her privacy and that he should not have identified her as a former erotic dancer.

The council found that the facts presented by the journalist were indeed correct, that there was no publication ban on the legal case that would have precluded mentioning Landry’s identity, and that there was nothing wrong with describing her as a former erotic dancer (and she was identified as such on a strictly factual basis, not in a malicious or derogatory one).

All of the complaints were dismissed.


In addition to the above, two other complaints – one against André Pratte of La Presse and the other against Joe Morabito of le Courrier du Sud, were rejected because they didn’t meet the criteria of a valid complaint to the council.

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.

Quebec Press Council roundup: Police, Palestinians and the poor

The Quebec Press Council rejects most of the complaints it gets, judging them to be unfounded (usually because the complainants – which include no-hope politicians and conspiracy theorists – have no case and just want to punish a journalist whose facts or opinions they don’t like). You can read those cases on the QPC’s website or see summaries in their press release.

I will highlight one rejected complaint though:

  • Paul Chablo (SPVM) v. Radio-Canada: Chablo, who acts as a media representative for the Montreal police, complained that an Enquête report on Fredy Villanueva was unfair to the officers involved, used young photos of Villanueva to mislead viewers into thinking he was younger than he actually was when he was killed, and showed the faces and names of the two officers involved as if they were criminals. The Council rejected all of these complaints. ProjetJ also looks at this.

Among the complaints they upheld:

  • Dimitri Roussopoulos v. La Presse: Roussopoulos wrote a letter to La Presse to refute another letter that had factual errors concerning the Plateau’s participatory budget process. His letter was not published, and after months of delays (and pestering), he was eventually told it would never be published. The Council agreed that since there were factual errors in the letter that were not corrected, Roussopoulos had a right of reply that was denied to him.
  • Matthew Trowell v. The Suburban: Trowell complained about The Suburban’s biased views on anti-Israeli protesters, specifically a cover article from editor Beryl Wajsman which called them “purveyors of hate” after they took to the streets to denounce Israeli military action in Gaza. It also complained about articles in the next week’s issue from Wajsman, Joel Goldenberg and P.A. Sevigny that painted all Palestinians as child-killers and Jew-haters. The Council, taking pains to note that it isn’t taking a stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, upheld a complaint against Wajsman and Sevigny for having exaggerated in their pieces, pretending that the protest was made up mostly or exclusively of Hamas supporters. But it ruled that the Suburban did not incite violence, that quoting a rabbi who was in turn quoting inflamatory things at a public gathering was not inappropriate, and that an editorial cartoon in the paper did not cross the line.
  • Front commun des personnes assistées sociales du Québec v. Sylvain Bouchard and CJMF: Bouchard said on his radio show that people living on social assistance in Quebec were “quêteux” that get free food and lodging from the government (this, during a discussion about whether such people should be denied the right to vote). The Council ruled that Bouchard was disrespectful, prejudicial and discriminatory toward those on social assistance with his comments. This item got a brief in Le Devoir.

The Council has also rejected an appeal from The Gazette concerning a ruling it had made about the paper’s coverage of the Bouchard-Taylor reasonable accommodation report. Though the Council rejected most of the complaints against The Gazette (whose reporter Jeff Heinrich broke the news of the report’s final draft), it upheld one that the paper was misleading about the importance of certain parts of the report’s findings.

Conseil de quoi?

In case you didn’t notice, the Quebec Press Council is undergoing an existential crisis. Two of its leaders quit on Friday, amid disputes over whether the group that counts most reputable news media organizations (including The Gazette) as members should focus solely on dealing with complaints or act as an interest group for journalism in general.

They haven’t been quiet since leaving, printing an op-ed in Le Devoir and giving an interview to Projet J. Ex-president Raymond Corriveau and ex-VP Denis Plamondon tackle some of the council members’ demands head on, including demands that decisions be signed (they say anonymity protects journalists from reprisals from their bosses) and that those who issue complaints via the council be forced to waive their right to sue media outlets (such a thing would only discourage complaints, especially those that are valid).

UdeM journalism professor Jean-Claude Leclerc also has an analysis of the situation.

Nelson Dumais and Cyberpresse need to stand up for integrity

A few weeks ago, Cyberpresse technology blogger Nelson Dumais had a curious post on his blog attacking the Quebec Press Council. It seems the Conseil de presse du Québec had issued a decision which blamed him for accepting free trips, a violation of the council’s code of ethics.

The situation is somewhat nuanced, so let me explain:

The council only acts based on complaints. In this case, a reader who has a beef with Dumais accused him of being biased in favour of corporate software and against free software, because of these free junkets he went on. The complainant also accuses Dumais of censoring his comments on Dumais’s blog. The council rejected both of these complaints, failing to find any bias in Dumais’s work and ruling that Dumais has the authority to moderate his blog as he sees fit.

But the council did give Dumais a slap on the wrist for accepting free travel sponsored by the companies he writes about, without fully disclosing the trips to his readers. He hasn’t hidden the fact that he gets these trips for free, he even wrote a blog post about it in 2006, but since not all readers will have seen that post, he should disclose it whenever there might be a conflict of interest.

Paid travel is listed as an example in the council’s section on responsibilities of the press to avoid conflicts of interest:

Preventing Conflicts of Interest

The Press Council recommends that media enterprises develop clear policies to prevent and deal with conflict of interest situations. Those policies should apply both to reporters and opinion writers. All situations that risk compromising the independence and impartiality of journalists should be addressed. Examples include paid travel, privileges and gifts, as well as awards and prizes offered by any group whose main purpose is to promote something other than journalism.

It acknowledges that there might be exceptions (reporting from war zones or other far-off places where commercial travel is unfeasible), but that there must be full disclosure in those situations.

Of course, these are all guidelines. The council has no official power. It cannot fine or discipline journalists for violations, and participation in the council is optional.

So a body with no power has mostly cleared Dumais of wrongdoing, only saying that he should disclose where the companies he writes about give him free travel to their junkets. Simple, right?

Obviously not, because Dumais is pissed. And I must be missing something, because most of his readers are too, and even fellow journalists.

Dumais’s argument is also nuanced. First of all, he’s not on staff at La Presse or Cyberpresse. He’s a freelancer, which means he basically has to look after his own expenses.

He also trots out that well-worn of excuses that everybody else does it, so that makes it okay.

Finally, he adds that in no way have these junkets affected how he reports, and requiring disclosure on every piece he writes would give people the false impression that these companies are paying him for his opinion.

But none of these excuses justifies accepting all-expenses-paid trips from software companies, much less deciding not to disclose them fully.

First of all, as any ethics expert will tell you, it’s not just about conflict of interest. It’s about the appearance of conflict.

Second, if these junkets truly had absolutely no effect on how journalists report, they would not exist. These giant software companies aren’t morons. They know if they give you free food and free travel, you’re a lot more likely to talk about their product. There might not be any direct quid pro quo, but they know you’re a lot more likely to say something positive about them. And if you have a reputation as someone who bashes the products promoted on these junkets, you won’t be invited to them in the future.

Finally, Cyberpresse should not be exploiting freelancers as a way of getting around paying expenses. Dumais is right that if he billed Gesca for all these trips, he wouldn’t be allowed to go on them anymore (an argument that makes it clear these trips are of value to him). But if we accept that journalists should not get free travel, then even freelancers should have their expenses paid for, no questions asked. This judgment is as much a stain on Gesca as it is on Dumais.

Dumais says he doesn’t have a choice in this matter. That’s bullshit. He can refuse these junkets. He just doesn’t want to, and neither does Cyberpresse, because they both (indirectly) profit financially from them.

Dumais and Cyberpresse must put an immediate stop to this, and stand up for journalistic integrity. These junkets should be outright banned, Dumais’s previous articles online should be edited to add disclosure statements to them, and a policy should be setup to ensure that freelancers do not feel they have to deal with their own expenses when they write original pieces for Gesca-owned properties. Other media organizations should follow suit with similar policies, including full disclosure of any gifts, sponsorships, favours or expenses paid for by companies seeking favourable coverage.

Someone must stand up for ethics, even if that means he stands alone.

If Frank Zampino is getting raked over the coals for accepting a yacht trip that he paid for, why should Nelson Dumais be allowed to accept trips that were provided for free? Do we expect stronger ethics in politicians than journalists?

Quebec Press Council roundup

A new round of decisions from the Quebec Press Council has been posted to its website. In addition to the Gazette case I mentioned earlier, and other dismissals, were some slaps on the wrist:

UPDATE (April 3): Le Devoir reports on these decisions a week later, saying the decisions were released “yesterday” which I guess means I’m psychic.

Gazette was (mostly) fair with Bouchard-Taylor scoop

The Quebec Press Council has ruled that The Gazette acted properly in its scoop of the year last year, getting its hands on a final draft of the Bouchard-Taylor report before any other news outlet.

When the Gazette published excerpts of the report (though not its conclusions), it elicited a lot of anger and hostility from hard-core separatists and francophone media who accused it of misleading the public even before the report was issued. Having failed to get the scoop themselves, La Presse, the Journal, Le Devoir and Radio-Canada tried to raise doubts about the paper’s take.

A week later, when the report was released, it turned out the Gazette got it right. Even then, other media (you know, the ones who put “EXCLUSIF” and “EN PRIMEUR” before every headline) questioned whether the leak was irresponsible, as if knowing the rather obvious conclusions of the commission on reasonable accommodation ahead of time would somehow undermine it.

The QPC process took longer than the media analysis. The panel rejected any notion of racism or irresponsibility that had been alleged by anglo-haters Jean Dorion and Gilles Rhéaume. It did, however, uphold a charge that the Gazette “misled the public with respect to the real value and importance that should be given to the information published.” In other words, pretending it was a bigger deal than it really was. The Gazette is appealing that part of the ruling (UPDATE July 24: The Gazette’s appeal has been rejected).

No one’s holding their breath waiting for corrections and apologies.

Quebec’s Most-of-the-press Council

The Association québécoise des télédiffuseurs et radiodiffuseurs, which represents private French-language broadcasters in Quebec (namely, TVA, TQS, Astral, Corus, RDS, Radio-Nord and MétéoMédia), has pulled out of the Quebec Press Council en masse.

Their reasoning: They’re already forced to belong to the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, so it’s a waste of money to belong to two organizations that dictate how they should run their news affairs.

The Council has decided not to fight the matter, but it puts the group in an odd position when it comes to complaints about these broadcasters (and certainly TVA will come up often as it still does news). They could still hold hearings about them, but the broadcasters aren’t going to cooperate, nor are they going to listen to the Council’s decisions, as toothless as they already are.

UPDATE: The Council responds with an open letter which is, frankly, unconvincing. See also a post about this at Les 7 du Québec.

ProjetJ has an audio interview with Thérèse David, former TQS VP and journalism professor, who defends the press council.

UPDATE (Jan. 23): ProjetJ interviews Corus to get their take on the matter.

Quebec Press Council wants to know what’s wrong with the media

Jealous, I would guess, of the immense success of the Bouchard-Taylor Commission on reasonable accommodation (and how it neatly solved the problem of cultural differences), the Quebec Press Council has announced it is going on a Quebec-wide tour of the regions to get people’s opinions on the state of the news media in Quebec.

The consultation document (PDF, surprisingly an English version was available) suggests the main points are the usual media hot-button issues: media consolidation, the quality of local news reporting, and what’s up with this whole “Internet” thing.

They stop in Montreal March 27. (Full schedule PDF)

Rather than wait until they’re finished, I’ll save them some time and go straight to the conclusions:

  • Big media doesn’t cover local issues in the regions and all the news comes from Montreal
  • Too many media outlets are owned by too few companies
  • TV news doesn’t do journalism well
  • Radio doesn’t do journalism at all
  • We need to save TQS
  • We need to get rid of TQS
  • Big media have an irrational bias against Israel and in favour of Palestinian homicide bombers
  • Big media have an irrational bias against Palestine and in favour of the murderous Israeli military occupation
  • Big media refuse to expose the truth about (insert nonsense conspiracy theory here)
  • The media are too sensationa… hey did you hear about that story in the Journal?
  • The news is filled with fluff. Journalists don’t focus on important issues like … umm … I don’t know, I spend most of my time on TMZ.com
  • The paper didn’t print my 45,000-word letter to the editor explaining the sociological implications of fonts used on instruction manual cover pages in South Africa
  • Only bloggers provide accurate news coverage
  • Bloggers are stupid and incoherent

Quebecor the big loser in journalistic ethics rulings

Raymond Viger, in his 2007 look back, decides to evaluate local media based on decisions rendered against them by the Quebec Press Council. An interesting quantitative measure if there ever was one. Quebecor’s various properties, led by the Journal de Montréal (unsurprisingly), get top “honours.”

I think it’s also worth looking at who’s not on that list: