Macpherson: Quebec’s Fox News, only bigger

Of note, and the consequent implications:

For their shrill populism, the Québecor media have been called Quebec’s Fox News. But in terms of their influence on this province’s politics, they’re much bigger than that.

Last weekend, in the annual Quebec journalism awards, Québecor’s newspapers, television channels and digital media were shut out.

But its flagship daily Le Journal de Montréal boasted of survey results suggesting that on all platforms, the three Québecor dailies were read at least once a week by more than half of Quebecers over the age of 14.

And Québecor’s TVA network bragged that its newscasts and LCN all-news channel led the television ratings in their respective categories.

This market domination by the Québecor media, and their resulting influence on public opinion, help explain poll results published this week suggesting that Quebec is the only province where a majority supports legislation like Bill 21.

The Legault government’s proposed anti-hijab-and-kippah-and-turban bill is supposed to settle, after more than a decade, the issue of accommodating minority religions. As the Bouchard-Taylor provincial commission on the subject reported in 2008, that issue was largely created by sensationalist and often inaccurate reporting by Québecor. And it’s mainly Québecor that has kept the issue alive.

In December 2017, TVA reported that a Montreal mosque had female construction workers removed from a work site outside during Friday prayers. The report was quickly debunked, but it wasn’t until a year later that TVA grudgingly admitted it was false and apologized.

Instead of editorials, Québecor’s dailies have columnists who circulate among its “convergent” platforms defending the supremacy of what one of them, Mathieu Bock-Côté, calls Quebec’s “historic French-speaking majority” — that is, ethnic French-Canadians — against the province’s minorities and other enemies of the true people.

Last January, another Le Journal columnist, Denise Bombardier, called minorities who complain of their treatment in the province “enemies … of French-speaking Quebec.” And she issued a call to “extinguish these hotbeds of intolerance,” even though she acknowledged it might be used by the “hotheaded and violently prejudiced.”

Le Journal’s columnists have clout. The non-binding 2017 National Assembly motion against the public use of English, in the form of the bilingual “bonjour-hi” greeting in businesses, resulted from a campaign spearheaded by one of them, Sophie Durocher.

Another, Richard Martineau, is obsessed with “Islamism” and has been accused of Islamophobia, which he denies.

In 2017, TVA’s rival Radio-Canada reported that in the previous 10 years, Martineau had written about 700 columns directly or indirectly concerning Islam.

A UQAM sociologist, Rachad Antonius, told Radio-Canada he had concluded from a study of Le Journal’s news coverage and columns on Islam that their cumulative effect fostered distrust of Muslims.

But if “Islamists” are a Martineau dog whistle, they may not be his only one. A cheerleader for Bill 21, he predicted that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will come under pressure to challenge the legislation from “followers of multiculturalism who live in Hampstead or Côte-Saint-Luc,” Montreal suburbs widely identified with their Jewish residents.

Québecor’s domination of the marketplace puts pressure on other media to follow its lead, in both news coverage and opinion. And its position may get even stronger, as its competitors get weaker.

The same day that Le Journal boasted of its readership, its main competitor, La Presse, published another plea for reader donations.

From 250,000 paying subscribers when it was still charging for its journalism, the number of its financial supporters willing to donate money to keep reading La Presse has shrunk to a total of 23,500 donors for the past four months.

This was after Le Journal reported last week that La Presse and another of Québecor’s competitor, Quebec City’s daily Le Soleil, are in serious financial trouble, and have asked the Legault government for help.

It said the government is “particularly pessimistic” about the future of Capitales Médias, which owns Le Soleil and five small regional dailies. And it said that, despite La Presse’s campaign to raise $5 million in donations, it could be broke within a year.

Source: Macpherson: Quebec’s Fox News, only bigger

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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