The Quebec government has paused plans to create a professional class of journalists, following widespread criticism of the proposals.
The plans first emerged with the publication of the Payette Report last January. Minister of Culture, Communications, and the Status of Women Christine St. Pierre asked Laval University professor and former Radio-Canada journalist Dominique Payette to recommend ways of improving journalistic standards in Quebec. One of the recommendations included in the Payette Report involved creating the title of “professional journalist.”
In the report, the Ministry argues that “the increasing number of news platforms do not guarantee better news quality” because amateur journalists, such as bloggers, are not required to follow the “high ethical standards” of professional journalists. The Ministry believes that a professional title is in the public interest because it would distinguish professional journalists from other types of commentators.
Under the proposals, “professional journalists” would also have preferential access to governmental sources and meetings.
In April 2011, the Fédération professionnelle des journalistes du Quebec (FPJQ) voted 86.6 per cent in favour of creating a professional title.
Claude Robillard, Secretary General for FPJQ, noted that “with the arrival of the Internet, blogs, social media, et cetera, everyone has begun writing and commenting.”
“Even in newsrooms, information is being diluted with the arrival of all sorts of commentators, such as politicians, ex-politicians, hockey players, and ex-hockey players,” he said.
“We say that, for the public, the difference between someone who has a hidden agenda, and the journalist who isn’t supposed to have any hidden agendas, isn’t necessarily evident,” Robillard added.
However, by the the end of 2011, the FPJQ was divided on the plans.
FPJQ President Brian Myles recently rescinded full support for the title of professional journalist, citing the divisions the plans created within the FPJQ.
The Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ) has critiqued the plan from the start. In a statement posted on its website, the CAJ writes that, “The Quebec government’s proposal to divide journalists into classes, backed by legislation, and giving one group rights and privileges denied to the other is a fundamental interference by government in true freedom of the press.”
The CAJ also suggested that the plans implied that the public needed the government’s help to distinguish between good and bad journalism.
“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,” continues the CAJ statement.
Sarah Deshaies, Quebec bureau chief for the Canadian University Press and chief copy editor for the Concordian, argued in a December 7 Ottawa Citizen blog post that the plans would severely hinder student journalism, in particular.
“Limiting the access of student journalists to sources, and privileging certain information to paid journalists, also limits Quebec’s youth,” Deshaies writes. “Student journalists are not only trying to build their craft, but they are also often mandated by the students they serve to report and reflect on student issues, a topic often overlooked by mainstream media.”
Speaking to the Link, Steve Faguy, a copy editor at the Montreal Gazette and creator of the blog Fagstein, agreed.
“Many people see [the word] ‘journalist’ and they think of a newspaper reporter,’ said Faguy. “But journalism is a lot more complicated than that, and it’s only going to get more so. I think it will be impossible for a line to be drawn between ‘journalist’ and ‘non-journalist,’ because I don’t believe such a distinction exists anymore.”