Minister assures protection for non-francophone media

By P.A. Sévigny on December 16, 2011

During an official government consultation which took place in the Théatre Rouge located in Montreal's Conservatoire D'Art Dramatique, Quebec's Minister of Culture and Communications stated that there would be "no mandatory French language tests," for Quebec's ethnic and Anglophone media.

Ministre Christine St-Pierre is presently leading a province-wide consultation which is examining assorted issues related to Quebec's media following the release of what has come to be known as the Payette Report.

Her assurance came in response to concerns voiced by Suburban publisher Michael Sochaczevski and Suburban Editor and Métropolitain Publisher Beryl Wajsman in their presentation. "We have no intention of imposing French language tests on the province's English or ethnic media, or affecting any of its rights and viability, and I would ask you to disseminate that message." she said. "We do, however, want to improve the French used in Quebec's French-speaking media," she added.

Some 10 minutes into the presentation by Sochaczevski and Wajsman, who were not only representing The Suburban and The Métropolitain but also the 31-member Quebec Community Newspaper Association (QCNA), and were carrying a letter of support from the Quebec Community Groups Network (QCGN), the minister understood that there was substantial opposition to the Payette Report and its assorted proposals.

Following a brief yet inspired defense of every Canadian citizen's rights and freedoms among which Wajsman included "the citizen's inalienable right to a free battleground of ideas unfettered by the heavy hand of the state" as the backbone of a strong democracy, it took Wajsman only a few minutes to follow up with a convincing argument as to why the government had no business using its powerful bureaucracy to police what is already a free and vigilant press. Following Wajsman's address, Sochaczevski used his time to argue that the media needed less rules and more freedom if the sector was to survive and thrive during the shifting economic conditions of the 21st century.

"If you reliably and consistently deliver the truth, it doesn't matter if you have a degree or pay a fee to an association. No amount of school makes you a journalist," said the veteran publisher. "Only writing stories makes you a journalist." Apart from several points he made about giving Quebec's media the time they need to adjust to the new century's shifting market conditions, he also told St-Pierre that the demands proposed by the Payette Report would effectively kill many of Quebec's independent weeklies. "They cannot afford the burdens being imposed," said Sochaczevski, "and a French language requirement for an English, Italian or Chinese paper is absurd." During the commissioners' question period, the minister, who was visibly annoyed with the suggestion that the plan recommended language testing, told both men they were wrong about the report's draconian language proposals.

She also asked Wajsman why he never bothered to contact her office prior to its editorials on the subject which went viral and his own national op-eds.

Well, Wajsman had. Apart from telling St-Pierre that he discussed the issue "at length," with  Premier Charest's Chief of Staff, Wajsman told the minister he had spoken to officials in her office on five separate occasions before the writing of the editorials and opinion pieces which denounced the Payette Report's more draconian recommendations, including the infamous single sentence (located on page 117) which reads (in French) as follows:

"Que le maintien du titre de journaliste professional soit lié à l'obligation d'obtenir un credit annuel de formation en langue Française." Sochaczevski had pointed out to the minister that he was very satisfied to hear her assurances that the recommendation did not mean to include non-francophones, but the language was clear.

Roughly translated, that means that every one of Quebec's journalists would have to take an annual French exam if they wish to maintain their accreditation as a working "professional journalist." While St-Pierre conceded that the wording was open to misinterpretation, she also repeated to the audience that the measure was meant to improve the quality of written and spoken French amid Quebec's French-speaking media.

"As far as we're concerned,² said the minister, " this measure - if adopted - would only affect Quebec's French-speaking media. Everyone else has nothing to worry about.² The minister then made a point of thanking Wajsman for making his presentation and comments in French.



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