Quebec government sets up media concentration committee

Media concentration in Quebec has just become a government issue.

The Quebec government has set up a recommendation committee ÔÇ£regarding quality and diversity of informationÔÇØ whose mandate is to analyze media concentration in Quebec and report directly to Diane Lemieux, Minister of Culture and Communications.

The Minister is proposing a series of legislation initiatives dealing with the media, not the least of which is establishing a ÔÇ£flexible professional structureÔÇØ for journalists in order to ÔÇ£reinforce the practice of ethical journalism in Quebec in regard to the quality of published information.ÔÇØ Other legislative initiatives include creating a permanent public establishment to hear press complaints, obliging publishing companies to adopt a self-regulatory policy in regards to ÔÇ£diversity and qualityÔÇØ of information, and creating a financial assistance fund for the independent media in Quebec.

Creating a flexible professional structure for journalists would ensure a higher level of professionalism, a Ministry memo on the committee states. ÔÇ£An in-depth refection regarding the quality of information published in Quebec requires a close examination of current journalistic ethics in use,ÔÇØ states the memo. ÔÇ£There are few formal rules or ethical principles practiced by journalists, as the journalistic profession in not structured or governed by a professional corporation. A respect for professional practices and norms would ensure a high level of quality information and ensure the publicÔÇÖs right to information.ÔÇØ

Lemieux proposes to impose mandatory participation from publishing companies to work out the mechanics of self-regulation, says the memo. ÔÇ£The objective is to encourage companies to elaborate on the parameters of self-regulation and the criteria to ensure the quality and diversity of the information under which they would operate,ÔÇØ it says. ÔÇ£The criteria could refer to the variety of opinions and points-of-view published and regarding opinion pieces, the range of social issues to be presented, to the use of original texts compared to the texts from press agencies or to the importance given to different journalistic styles. Due to the mechanism of self-regulation, the base criteria and how they would be implemented will be decided by a forum and involving decisions by mutual consent. Means and standards of verification and corrective measures (if necessary) will be formulated in the same fashion.ÔÇØ

An assistance fund for independent media would also encourage diversity and quality of information, the memo says. The principal mandate of this fund would be to:

┬À Contribute to the development of written and electronic media outside the large conglomerates;
┬À Increase the quality and the financial situation of these media;
┬À┬áAssist in structuring the various members of the independent media;
┬À┬áDiversify the national, regional and local general offer of information;
┬À┬áFavour the presence of such media everywhere in the province;
┬À┬áand increase the publicÔÇÖs accessibility to general information all kinds, nationally, regionally and locally or information of a political, social or economic nature.

Lemieux will select the 13-member committee (12 members and one president) based on their background and knowledge of one of four selected areas: Universities, journalism, publishing and the public. The committee will review the MinisterÔÇÖs legislation recommendations and engage in research activities in regards to the potential negative effect of the press concentration in Quebec.

ÔÇ£It is important to realize that this is a relatively new situation in Quebec,ÔÇØ says the Ministry memo. ÔÇ£It became more prominent with the numerous media transactions in 2000. Therefore, no studies exist as of this date that demonstrates if the expected negative results have actually transpired.Ô