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The FPJQ surveyed members earlier this year and found out most support a professional journalist status. (Credit: CNW.ca, screenshot)

As iMediaEthics wrote earlier this month, Quebec Culture Minister Christine St-Pierre suggested the idea of licensing journalists.

We wrote to the Federation of Professional Journalists in Quebec (FPJQ), a group that had expressed interest in licensing journalists, to learn more about why their group supports licensing and what recommendations it would make.

Claude Robillard, the group’s secretary-general, responded to iMediaEthics . Robillard prefaced his response by commenting that  “it’s important to note that English-speaking journalists in Canada are a lot more reluctant to [accept] a professional status than French-speaking ones. ”

Robillard argued that having a “professional status” doesn’t impede free speech since both French and Belgian journalists have maintained a “professional status.”  Case in point, Robillard cited Denmark’s inclusion of a journalists’ ethics code into the law while Denmark is rated by Reporters without Borders as having a high press freedom status. (Reporters without Borders ranked Denmark #11 in its 2010 Press Freedom Index.  According to European Journalism Centre, Denmark’s Media Liability Act calls for “both the content and the conduct of the mass media must be in conformity with sound press ethics.”)

But Robillard noted that according to an April 2011 survey by FPJQ and its annual convention, both those surveyed and those present that the convention largely supported the idea of having of a “professional status.”  According to a press release, the survey found that 86.8% of those Quebec journalists surveyed liked the idea of professional status. (The participation rate in this survey is listed as 58%, as “nearly a hundred” of the 1,694 survey invitations didn’t “reach their destination.” 918 members responded, according to the FPJQ.)

However, Robillard was clear to note that despite supporting a “professional status,” a priority is ensuring that journalists are the ones who determine who is a journalist and who is not.  “At no time will the State decide who is a journalist,” Robillard said.

Robillard added that FPJQ envisions that “professional status” should be coupled with an ethics code. That way, “professional journalists” also all follow the same guidelines.  Those guidelines would also help separate journalists from other “communicators like PR.”

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Robillard commented.

“The professional status will be a way to say to the public: this person respects a Code of ethics. He seeks public interest and not to protect private interests, etc…”

iMediaEthics asked Robillard for more information about the code of ethics FPJQ members follow.  The English version of the current code is available here, but FPJQ is currently working with the Quebec Press Council on a revised version.  The two groups hope to complete the code by December or January, Robillard stated.

Robillard noted that FPJQ can’t enforce its code, but rather call on members to make a “moral commitment.” He also noted that FPJQ isn’t calling for the proposed “professional journalists” to get perks or special access beyond a shield law.

StinkyJournalism asked Robillard if FPJQ had any response to The Montreal Gazette’s Klaus Pohle’s argument that defining journalists could establish a “hierarchy of citizens and journalists.”

Robillard rejected that idea, citing as evidence the ability for journalists to gain access with press passes.  After all, Robillard noted, without any official “professional status,” journalists are able to get a somewhat special access to “festivals, sports events, political rally, G-8, etc.” Robillard suggested that the establishment of a “professional status” wouldn’t be any different.

“The only real hierarchy will be between those who respect ethics and those who prefer not to bond themselves to journalistic principles,” Robillard wrote.

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Quebec Journalists’ Group: Why ‘Professional Status’ for Journalists is OK

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