A well-known Quebec TV journalist testified Thursday that a website spoofing the Journal de Montréal newspaper fooled many people — including a former premier — with a joke story claiming she was in a relationship with a provincial cabinet minister.
Anne-Marie Dussault of Radio-Canada told a trial pitting the Journal de Montreal’s owner against the satirical Journal de Mourréal that she considered the 2015 article a violation of her personal life and that of her partner.
“We were deeply affected, shaken, upset, disturbed, our integrity was attacked by the information published by the Journal de Mourréal,” Dussault told the court. She said the effects continue to be felt.
She recounted that several educated people contacted her to ask about the story after the Journal de Mourréal reported she was dating Gaétan Barrette, the health minister at the time.
Dussault said former premier Bernard Landry, who died last year, expressed concern about her long-term relationship with journalist Marc Laurendeau when they crossed paths at a symphony concert. “He passes in front of me and says, ‘Listen Anne-Marie, it’s not true? You didn’t leave Marc for Dr. Barrette?'” she testified.
She also said Radio-Canada’s ombudsman received complaints from viewers complaining Dussault was in a conflict of interest because her consisted of interviewing Barrette and other members of the government.
Lawyers for Quebecor, which publishes the Journal de Montréal, are arguing the satirical site is eroding the credibility of the newspaper’s brand and creating confusion among readers.
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They want the site to change its name, logo and web site address, all of which are nearly identical to those of the Journal de Montréal.
The spoof story was inspired by a March 2015 episode of the talk show Tout le monde en parle on which Dussault and Barrette both appeared. Under a badly photo-shopped image depicting the two together in front of a Christmas tree, the satirical article said there was “palpable sexual tension” between them on the talk-show set.
An emotional Dussault accused Janick Murray-Hall, co-founder of the spoof site, of spreading false information without regard to the impact on people he writes about.
“It causes harm to my physical, personal and professional integrity, and the goal of a news item like that is to mislead the public,” she told the court.
“Informed, intelligent, educated people who understand nuance believed it.”
Murray-Hill apologized to Dussault in the courtroom and offered to remove the article from his site immediately.
The two sides in the trial had declared their evidence closed Wednesday, but Dussault contacted Quebecor lawyer Marek Nitoslawski Wednesday afternoon offering to tell her story.
Nitoslawski said Media QMI, the arm of Quebecor that publishes the Journal de Montreal, is in court to protect its trademark, not to stifle satire.
“The testimony of Ms. Dussault confirms what we are telling you,” he told Superior Court Justice Micheline Perrault. “You see, it’s likely to create confusion. People seem to believe this news and think it comes from the Journal de Montréal.”
He noted that the operators of the Journal de Mourréal also have an English-language spoof site that does not copy an actual media brand.