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Canadiana, Federal Politics

Tension mounting between CBC and Quebecor

Quebecor President and CEO Pierre-Karl Peladeau

Tension is mounting between Canada’s public broadcaster and Quebecor Inc. over access to information requests made to the CBC, and what Quebecor Inc. President and CEO Pierre Karl Peladeau is calling a “smokescreen” around how the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation spends its tax-payer funded budget of $1.1B.

Peladeau and others have been calling for the CBC to come clean on how their budget is allocated annually, suggesting there may be some wrong doing on the broadcaster’s part for purchases made in celebration of CBC’s 75th anniversary, for example, or how a contract for a multimillion dollar IT project was awarded. In an op-ed in the Toronto Sun (a Sun Media newspaper under Peladeau’s control), Peladeau noted that Sun Media journalists “believe that access to information is a fundamental right of Canadians and a pillar of our democracy,” and that his repeated requests for information were part of a journalistic duty to get at the truth.

Peladeau maintains that his requests are not about competition between CBC and Quebecor Inc. over audience share and revenue in Quebec. “As a media company it is our duty to report to our audience how this money is spent.

“The CBC…perceives us,” he adds, “as one of its competitors.” And not the other way around.

Currently, the CBC is under investigation from Conservative MP’s and Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault over their refusal to submit non-redacted documents in response to Access to Information requests made by Quebecor Media Inc. representatives and others.

Legault is claiming that the CBC may be “arbitrarily rejecting some requests without doing due diligence,” according to the Toronto Star.

But Marc-Philippe Laurin of the Canadian Media Guild told the Montreal Gazettethat Peladeau’s requests – “such as asking for anchors’ salaries to requests for journalistic property” – are not of concern to taxpayers. “They are only related to competition,” he adds.

“It is a war being waged by Quebecor, a private media company that has, what we believe should be obvious to everyone, a private commercial interest in diminishing the role and presence of its main competitor, CBC, especially in the province of Quebec,” Laurin claims in the Gazette.

And CBC has decided to fight back. Last week, the public broadcaster published a statement on the situation so far, which accused Peladeau and Quebecor of “using its newspapers and more recently its Sun News Network TV licence to pursue a campaign against CBC/Radio-Canada,” while distorting the truth in the process, writes the Star.

The action, on top of the on-going investigation into CBC’s handling of Access to Information requests, led to Peladeau being asked to speak at the House of Commons’ Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics.

Peladeau recounts in the Sun how he was allowed to counter the “absurd notion, advanced by the CBC and its supporters, that it was somehow inappropriate for a media group like Sun Media to make access to information requests to the CBC.”

Quebecor Inc. represents Canada’s largest conservative media empire, and the attacks on Canada’s public broadcaster that many on the right feel is too sympathetic to the left raised suspicion on the Hill.

Among them was NDP MP Charlie Angus.

Outside the meeting, Angus told the Star that “this is very much part of the dirty war between Quebecor and CBC and the Conservative party has signed on as loyal foot soldiers,” an opinion shared by University of Ottawa professor Marc-François Bernier.

Bernier also told the Star that “I think part of the purpose is to weaken CBC because CBC is a rather significant competitor, especially within the Quebec market.”

But Peladeau maintains he is only doing his public duty as a private broadcaster, and Tory MP Dean Del Mastro agrees. Del Mastro maintains that the CBC is operating on a “high hill of “hypocrisy” in terms of how they benefit from Access to Information requests, but refuse to comply when they themselves are served with the request.

“Don’t you see a problem with that?” he asked.

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Note: I am constantly amazed at how people who hate the CBC come out of the woodwork any time a defense of the public broadcaster is published. It’s not enough to take exception with aspects of how the CBC operates, or its choice in programming: if you dislike it, it seems, you will accept nothing but its full and total annihilation. 

The baby, they may be shocked to find out, doesn’t have to be thrown out with the bath water.

Article was originally published in Digital Journal on 10/28/2011.

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