Quebec media baron Pierre Karl Péladeau uses his platforms to influence politics in the province, says a well-known businessman who recently became president of the Liberal party’s election campaign.
Days after announcing his jump into politics, Alexandre Taillefer took a swipe Wednesday at Péladeau, whose far-reaching media holdings include Le Journal de Montréal and the TVA television network.
Asked by a Montreal-based radio host whether the former Parti Québécois leader uses his empire to attack the Liberals, Taillefer first hesitated before answering.
“I think there is a certain influence,” he said.
Host Paul Arcand pressed him: “Meaning what?”
“Meaning there is certainly an influence,” Taillefer replied.
“I think you need to have a certain amount of reserve as a media owner. And if I were a journalist or a columnist in Le Journal de Montreal, I would question my impartiality.”
Péladeau isn’t like other media owners in Canada.
Through his Facebook and Twitter pages, he regularly lambastes government policy, boasts of his companies’ successes and has become one of the most public critics of the governing Quebec Liberals.
He became PQ leader in 2015 but resigned a year later for family reasons. He has signalled an interest in returning to politics — maybe even in time for the Oct. 1 election.
On the news Taillefer was to join the Liberals — when it was well-known most of the province’s political parties had been courting him — Péladeau tweeted he was a “turncoat” and an example of why citizens are cynical toward politicians.
Taillefer had donated money to a few political parties and was reportedly still a card-carrying member of the PQ when he joined the Liberals.
Articles and columns in Péladeau-owned media ensued, culminating in a front-page story in Le Journal on Wednesday about how Taillefer’s taxi company was full of “discord” after several drivers had been fired.
A columnist in the same edition described Taillefer as “superficial” and suggested his presidency of the Liberal campaign is not serious and is the product of political “polygamy.”
“It’s kind of stunning that there are so many articles (about me) after Péladeau tweets that I am a turncoat,” Taillefer said in the radio interview.
“I think (journalists) are very happy and receive a nice pat on the back when there are stories that talk about interests that are line with those of their boss.”
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Prof. Marsha Barber, of the Ryerson School of Journalism, studies media bias and said her research of national news outlets in Canada suggests media generally do everything they can to be fair and balanced.
“However, in this case, it’s very unusual to have a majority shareholder who is involved to a great degree in politics and in the electoral process,” she said in an interview in reference to Péladeau and his company, Quebecor Inc.
Reporters, regardless of their employer, try their utmost to be fair and balanced, she said, “and that’s the lifeblood of media in this country.”
Prof. Christopher Waddell of Carleton University’s School of Journalism and Communication said Canada has already witnessed what happens when a media owner tries to enter politics.
Despite criticism Péladeau uses his media for political gain, Waddell said, “As I recall, his tenure as leader was not particularly successful.”
He said he doesn’t believe owners directly order reporters on how their stories should be written.
“Most publications know who their audience is and will do things they think will interest their audience,” he said. “I think if someone wants to make an allegation against any reporter, they should have some evidence to present and I’m not sure in this case there is.”
Not long after Taillefer called out Quebecor and its journalists, Péladeau took to Twitter.
“If you don’t know how to take media pressure, Alexandre, let me audaciously advise you to consider doing something other than politics,” he tweeted.
“You risk being very unhappy as well as coming off as a sad man if you’re willing to say just about anything.”
After the firestorm he created with his radio comments, Taillefer tweeted later on Wednesday that the article about his taxi company in Le Journal was “factual and irreproachable.”
“Replace the word ‘journalist’ with ‘columnist’ and ‘headline writer’ and I maintain my question: is the editorial position of Quebecor media properties in line with the well-known political positions of their owner?”
© 2018 The Canadian Press