Late last summer, Quebec culture minister Christine St-Pierre proposed that Quebec journalists be licensed. iMediaEthics has been following the proposal and reaction to it since September. See our story on St-Pierre’s proposal here, the Federation of Professional Journalists in Quebec’s explanation for why it backs the call for licensing here, and St-Pierre’s office’s response to our questions about the proposal here. When we first wrote about this issue, the Canadian Association of Journalists told us it would be addressing St-Pierre’s suggestion in its mid-September meeting.
We’ve since heard back from the Canadian Association of Journalists with information about the group’s reaction and response to St-Pierre’s call.
The Canadian Association of Journalists’ president Hugo Rodrigues sent iMediaEthics the CAJ’s submission response to the Quebec government and press release on the matter. We asked if the CAJ would support the move to define journalists versus bloggers. Rodrigues told iMediaEthics that “the group doesn’t.” He wrote:
“The position we took in September is that we could not support the model proposed by the QC government in its consultation document. Many are leery as to what the title of “professional journalist” would do to differentiate between people practising journalism. We don’t believe any such definition or title should impact on anyone practising journalism to access the materials they need to do their jobs.”
We also asked Rodrigues if the CAJ would define journalists for the government. He responded to StinkyJournalism by e-mail:
“Not at this time. We are happy to provide our members, journalists and the public as a whole with a better understanding of what good journalism is and why it’s important. If doing so creates some kind of set of things that helps define who’s a journalist and who isn’t, so be it– however we’re not in the business of providing that definition for a government to then use it to decide who is and/or isn’t a journalist.”
The press release announces that the CAJ “does not agree with the Quebec government’s proposal to create a title of “professional” journalists and has advised the government of its concerns The release notes that the CAJ thinks a government-supported initiative to define journalists would be “fundamental interference by government in true freedom of the press.”
Further, Rodrigues is quoted by the press release as calling for the proposal, which he called a “mistake,” to be “withdrawn.”According to the release, the CAJ represents “about 800 members across the country.”
The group’s response to the government (see here) argues that “Government, no matter how noble its intentions, cannot help journalism under this proposal without subverting it.”
Further, the response claims that even if journalists organize and orchestrate any licensing of journalists, the practice would be too related to the government and therefore inhibit freedom of the press. Further, the CAJ wrote:
“Journalists rely on their credibility with their audience, with the public. Ultimately, that credibility does not reside in a journalist’s title or for whom they work. Credibility, whom readers and viewers will trust, comes from the content of their work. Was the reporting fair and comprehensive? Did the journalist behave ethically in getting or telling the story? Did they get it right?”
The response also noted that other professional groups including lawyers and doctors are licensed but still can run afoul of common professional practices.
Regardless of its position against the proposal, the CAJ questioned hypothetically how licensing Canadian journalists would affect U.S. journalists trying to report in Quebec and journalists who aren’t fluent in French, among their concerns.