The Métropolitain

Le rapport Payette: Un autre affront à la liberté d'expression

Par Beryl Wajsman le 16 février 2011

« Je crois qu'il y a plus d'exemples du raccourcissement de la liberté du peuple par des empiétements progressifs et silencieux par ceux au pouvoir que par des usurpations violentes et soudaines. »

- James Madison 

 

Au-delà d’un an, Dominique Payette, une ancien journaliste et maintenant professeure à l'Université de Montréal, a été mandatée par la Ministre de la culture Christine St-Pierre pour étudier des façons dont les médias dans les régions du Québec et les médias indépendantes dans les villes pourraient être aidés à l’ère des nouvelles technologies. Son rapport final, présenté la semaine dernière, est allé bien au-delà de son mandat. En fait, c'est le plus grand affront à la liberté d'expression depuis les lois linguistiques. Ça mérite un rejet retentissant.

Among her fifty-one recommendations are the following: mandatory membership by all news organizations in the Quebec Press Council; use of the state's money power to coerce membership by withdrawing provincial advertising to all those who will not submit; giving the council - now a voluntary organization with only moral suasion - sanction power; controlling who is called a journalist by organizing a professional corporation to control admission and demanding language testing for all those seeking professional accreditation. "Accredited" journalists would be given preference for matters ranging from government information flow to protection of sources.

The report mirrors the past forty years of goose-step conformity and suffocating statist control in this province from it's very title - "information in Quebec: a public interest." The state has used the term "public interest" for all manner of prohibitive law and legislation constricting not only what we may do but who we may be. Now it seeks to control what we may say by controlling who may report it and who may express it. A weapon such as this in the hands of a government will give it the power to silence any opposing voice simply by influencing the "professional corporation" it gave birth to to deny "accreditation." In speaking to several leading constitutional lawyers they could think of only one other jurisdiction in the free world that had proposed such a comparable draconian control. That place is Hungary, where prosecutions of writers are actually taking place. What an example to follow.

Let us look at just two of the more odious arrows in Payette's quiver. The Quebec Press Council has a penchant for investigating the most ludicrous complaints and giving them a seriousness they could never have on their own. This newspaper was the victim of a complaint from someone who felt that by publishing pictures of an Arab demonstration downtown where among the epitaphs chanted were "Jews are our dogs" we were inciting hatred against Arabs. The complaint did not take issue with the veracity of the report. Only with our reporting it. We won against that complaint, but not before we had to ask the council's officials whether they were seriously suggesting that by reporting hate we were inciting it. They did not know what to answer. And this organization, so bereft of moral compass is to be given more power? Stalin would be proud.

L'idée d’examens linguistiques pour recevoir l'accréditation mettrait sûrement fin aux affaires d’une grande partie des médias ethniques. C’est le but des médias ethniques. Pour communiquer avec ceux qui n'ont pas encore maîtrisé nos deux langues officielles. Ou est-ce que c'est à proscrire aussi? Nous ne sommes pas certains si des journalistes français pourraient passer l’examen onéreux sur la grammaire française du gouvernement. 

But it is the very notion that the Quebec state has the arrogance to think it has a right to control and invalidate those who practice our most essential freedom that is so objectionable. We cannot blame Payette alone. In her mandate, the Minister made reference to the necessity for this study because of the "general crises of media in industrialized countries." What crises? Too much free expression? Is there a fear that some brave and enterprising writers may actually put some dents into the historically revisionist nationalist narrative that has given birth to so many lies that have underpinned our culture wars of the past four decades? Is there a fear that too much truth shall out? But of course this is the Minister who recently encouraged Quebecers snitching on each other in order to enforce the language laws.

In speaking to senior members of the Charest administration we were assured that the report was just being studied and there was no commitment to implement it in whole or in part. We hope that is true. Because Payette's statocratic bias is frightening at times. In one section she clearly states that she favors " a new model of regulation for the Quebec press." we were not aware that there was an old model that regulated the press. The bedrock of a free society is an unregulated press. As Orwell wrote, the point of free expression was the right " to say and write those things that infuriate others." What part of freedom does Mme. Payette and the Minister not get?

More importantly, what are they afraid of?

Un haut gradé du gouvernement Charest avec qui nous avons parlé, et avisé que nous mènerions le combat contre l'exécution de ce rapport, nous a dit qu’il était étonné que la Fédération professionnelle des journalistes du Québec avait eu des commentaires positifs à propos du rapport. Nous avons répondu que naturellement ils en auraient. En parlant à quelques membres du FPJQ nous avons également entendu la ligne de parti qu'il y avait " trop" de gens qui s'appellent des journalistes et essayent d'entrer dans des conférences de presse et des galeries de presse législatives. Nous avons entendu l'objection aux bloggeurs et aux auteurs des médias sur Internet. Ce qui est triste est qu’aux États-Unis les journalistes des journaux Internet comme Politico, the Huffington Post et Slate.com sont célébrés, ici ils seront marginalisés. De notre perspective, tout ceci est une tentative de contrôler l'expression qui vise la protection d’emplois.

Since the American and French revolutions writers and journalists have been recognized as the fourth estate of government. For centuries, those concerns of the people that the legislature will not address and that the judiciary cannot address and that the executive is too busy to address, have been championed by a free and unfettered press.  Try and control who is a journalist and you take the first step to the destruction of freedom. Accrediting writers is like accrediting who can stand for public office. At it's best, the fourth estate is the staff of the innocent and the shield of the just. Destroy that and you start to destroy liberty. Papineau and Lafontaine, Cartier and Laurier, Godbout and Harvey, Trudeau and Levesque - all writers at one time in their careers - understood this inately. They believed in the free battleground of ideas. They must now be turning in their graves at the betrayal of their most noble aspirations.