How Quebecor’s press can distance itself from former boss Péladeau

Quebec media magnate Pierre Karl Péladeau is no longer making “any decisions” over his newspaper and TV station empire, Quebecor executives insisted Thursday.

“As we said clearly last week, Mr. Péladeau has resigned from everything,” said Robert Despatie, the new head of Quebecor, the sprawling Montreal-based telecom and media company Péladeau still holds a controlling stake in.

“He’s no longer taking part in any decisions,” Despatie said on a conference call.

Péladeau, one of the most powerful figures in Quebec’s private sector, announced Sunday his resignation from Quebecor in order to run in the April 7 provincial election.

Skepticism abounds as to whether Quebecor news properties will be able to give fair and critical coverage of their former boss during his election campaign, and in the event the St.-Jerome candidate wins, while he’s in office.

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Some experts from within Quebec are calling for measures to distance Quebecor’s news properties from their former boss.

“He remains the majority owner. While you don’t want to jump to conclusions, it is legitimate to be asking questions” about how to guard press objectivity, said Andre Juneau, director of intergovernmental relations at Queen’s University.

Quebecor owns the largest stable of media and news outlets in the province, including dozens of French-language newspapers and the TVA television network, Quebec’s biggest broadcaster.

TVA owns stations in Montreal, Quebec City, Rimouski, Saguenay, Sherbrooke and Trois-Rivieres, with affiliate stations in Carleton-sur-Mer, Gatineau, Riviere-du-Loup, Rouyn-Noranda

“It’s not your run-of-the-mill situation,” Juneau said. “What happens when he leaves politics – how are [journalists and other editorial workers] going to behave in anticipation of that?”

READ MORE: What does Pierre Karl Péladeau own? 

In a statement this week, the company said Péladeau’s involvement in the election wouldn’t alter the approach to coverage at Quebecor news outlets, which include influential francophone papers such as Journal de Montreal and Journal de Quebec, both established by Péladeau’s father Pierre Péladeau.

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“Quebecor management wishes to stress that the newsrooms of its media properties will continue to operate fully independently and to defend the public interest,” the release said.

“Coverage of the current Québec provincial election campaign will continue to be fair and impartial towards all political parties and candidates.”

‘insufficient’ measures

Péladeau has flatly rejected any notion of selling his stake in Quebecor, but will be forced to place his company shares in a trust under the independent control of a trustee who will oversee his commercial interests while the executive is in politics.

Péladeau has also insisted he is committed to the code of ethics of the province’s legislature.

But provincial academics and experts aren’t confident that goes far enough.

“These measures are insufficient,” Yvan Allaire, the executive chairman of the Institute of Governance and professor at the L’Université du Québec à Montréal, wrote in an opinion piece that ran in LaPresse, a rival to Quebecor’s papers.

Allaire proposes that Quebecor’s media assets be placed into the business fold of TVA and the company’s controlling stake in the television unit reduced to under half.

That would require issuing new shares to other investors that would dilute Quebecor’s ownership in the enlarged TVA company, Allaire suggests.

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Péladeau would continue to own control of Quebecor, whose principle business would remain cable and wireless company Videotron.

It is a complicated process but one that would preserve the objectivity of the bulk of Quebec’s French-language media outlets, Allaire said in his commentary.

“The risks of interventions, conflicts of interest, complacency and self-censorship [by journalists and editors] would be greatly reduced.”

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