Membership would have its privileges

A task force in Quebec recommends the certification of journalists

A government-appointed task force is proposing radical changes to the way news organizations operate in Quebec. Its 51 recommendations include the creation of a special status to differentiate “professional journalists” from amateur and citizen journalists, and a system of tax credits and grants to support what the panel says is a struggling industry.

What the proposals would also do is transform the largely toothless Quebec Press Council into a full-fledged regulator. In addition to its role as disciplinarian, the press council would gain the authority to decide which media companies qualify as “news organizations” and would therefore be eligible for potentially lucrative government benefits. Those benefits would also include the iron-clad right to protect sources, and to have government departments prioritize the Access to Information requests from their duly accredited journalists.

The recommendations appear expressly designed to force Quebecor back inside a regulatory tent after the media behemoth left the council last summer. At a press conference to announce the release of the report, task force chair Dominique Payette made it clear her group’s recommendations are aimed at reducing the influence of media conglomerates. “I could have started by saying, ‘we’re going to dismantle the empires,’ ” she said. “But I didn’t want this report to be shelved within a half-hour of its release.”

But it’s not clear how it would actually grow the industry, and those who might find themselves excluded aren’t happy. “They’re trying to find ways to prop up the big media institutions,” says Craig Silverman, the co-founder and digital journalism director of OpenFile, a collaborative news website set to launch in Montreal this spring. “Why not focus to create an ecosystem that allows new media to thrive instead?”

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