Quebec Culture Minister Explains Call to License Journalists

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Christine St-Pierre (Credit: Assemblee Nationale)

iMediaEthics wrote last month about Quebec culture minister Christine St-Pierre’s calls to license journalists. Journalists groups like the Federation of Professional Journalists in Quebec have supported her call, with certain guidelines — like ensuring that journalists groups and not the government are the ones to determine who is and isn’t deemed a professional journalist.

We have since heard back from St-Pierre’s office with more information about the politician’s call.  St-Pierre’s communications coordinator Chantal Gagnon told iMediaEthics that the call is the result of a study by Dominique Payette “on the future of information in Quebec in the context of technological change.” The study, which focused on the “media environment,” was “released” in January of this year.

Gagnon stated that the office intends to meet with “stakeholders” like media outlets, interest groups, and the public from October 6 to November 21 throughout Quebec.  Gagnon wrote that St-Pierre’s office isn’t trying to “limit access to the profession of journalism” or limit journalists’ freedoms.

According to Gagnon, the “main advantage” would be to differentiate between “professional journalists and other communicators” including bloggers.  Gagnon noted that bloggers have made “contributions” to “public debate,” but by categorizing the communicators, the public will be “better equipped to judge the nature of the information to which they have access” including whether the writer follows a code of conduct.

She rejected the possibility that a “professional status” would allow the government to control or regulate the press.  Instead, she noted that St-Pierre’s office is calling for suggestions on how “professional journalists” should be defined. Further, journalists wouldn’t be required to be defined: “Obtaining the status of a professional journalist would remain voluntary and there is no question of a hierarchy imposed by the state between different categories of journalists.”

In a follow-up e-mail, StinkyJournalism was sent a copy of St-Pierre’s consultation report. The report explained that the Payette report’s purpose was “to analyze the state of professional journalism, the accessibility and diversity of local and regional news sources, the state of news media in Quebec, the use of proper French in the media, and the challenges tied to new media and technology.”

The two main suggestions from the report include regulating Quebec media with a “professional status” and a stronger press council and backing “a greater diversity of voices.”

Regarding the professional status, the report reiterates that St-Pierre isn’t calling to limit journalism.  St-Pierre’s report explains that journalists groups should decide who is professional, how that decision is made, and what code of ethics the journalists should follow  The report states:

“Indeed, this legislation must not prevent anybody from practicing journalism; rather it should recognize those who practice journalism according to certain criteria, to be defined.

“It has also been suggested that the new act grant benefits or privileges to those who are officially recognized as professional journalists. The working group notes that the government’s role should be limited to supporting the creation of a professional status for journalists.”

Concerning the press council, St-Pierre called for the Quebec Press Council to continue working as “a dispute resolution panel to receive complaints…and adjudicate on hem” and recommended the council is granted new powers for independence, education and its conduct code.

Further, St-Pierre’s report includes a call to “encourage all media companies to join the PC and help fund it.”

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Quebec Culture Minister Explains Call to License Journalists

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