Quebec’s Minister of Culture, Christine St-Pierre, has expressed support for a recommendation that the province create a system of designating some journalists as professionals and giving them privileges – such as greater access to government information and the right to protect their sources – not afforded to others. The Federation professionelle des journalistes du Quebec has expressed qualified support for the idea, while Canada's major newspapers are cool to it.

Quebec’s Minister of Culture, Christine St-Pierre, has expressed support for a recommendation that the province create a system of designating some journalists as professionals and giving them privileges – such as greater access to government information and the right to protect their sources – not afforded to others.

The idea comes from a report prepared by Dominique Payette, a former Radio-Canada journalist, for the provincial government last winter.

The Federation professionelle des journalistes du Quebec has expressed qualified support for the idea while stressing that journalists (through the FPJQ, perhaps) would have to determine who got the special status.

Canada’s major newspapers are cool to the idea. An editorial in the Toronto Star called it a “truly bad idea.” The National Post called it  “two-tier journalism,” asking whether unilingual Anglophone reporters might be denied professional status and raising the spectre of a future, fervently separatist government using the scheme to force media outlets into supporting its quest. The Globe and Mail argued in an editorial that licensing journalists “would stifle press freedom.”

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While it’s not clear what the criteria for professional status would be, the Star notes that “all news outfits would be required to join the Quebec Press Council and abide by its rules; those that don’t would be denied government advertising.” QMI Media – operator of Sun newspapers in several cities and a number of other dailies – is no longer a member of the Quebec Press Council and recently withdrew from the Ontario Press Council as well.

The idea of governments playing favourites with access is already nothing new. David Ball, a freelance journalist working for the news website The Rabble, was ejected from a press conference given by federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney in Vancouver in early August.

As for greater access to government information, writes Chris Selley in the National Post, “the only thing journalists should do with that idea is laugh at it…. if a journalist has a question worth asking, most often it will beget a useless non-answer crafted by committee and vetted by PR hacks. If he’s very lucky, he’ll get it by deadline.” 
 

Grant Buckler is a retired freelance journalist and a volunteer with Canadian Journalists for Free Expression and lives in Kingston, Ont.