The media must question themselves

For 2024, I wish us all, collectively, media capable of more self-criticism.




Just before Christmas, in front of an audience of around a hundred journalists, the Minister of Culture and Communications, Mathieu Lacombe, had the courage to invite the media industry to question itself. He even proposed a certain number of avenues for reflection: journalistic practices, ethics, Press Council, etc. This criticism of the media, even if it was very nuanced and was formulated by a former journalist, was poorly received… as usual. The media have a hard time accepting criticism. However, it is necessary.

Throughout 2023, bad news has multiplied in the media world. TVA has eliminated nearly 600 positions. Metro Media has closed its doors. And Radio-Canada announced its intention to cut 250 positions in its French sector this year. In the region, the six dailies of the Coops de l’information have eliminated a third of their staff. For example, The right de Gatineau lost 25% of its newsroom: from the point of view of information and regional development, it is downright a disaster.

But that’s not all and perhaps it’s not even the main thing.

In May, a research report produced by professors Marc-François Bernier⁠1 and Marie-Eve Carignan reported a decline, between 2013 and 2023, of nearly 20% in people’s trust in the media. Worse still, according to this study, barely 54% of people who are aware of a subject covered by the media believe that journalists report the facts accurately and 45% of respondents believe that it happens “often or sometimes” that journalists contribute to create and disseminate news that is intentionally false and misleading⁠2.

In June, a study by Digital News Report, in collaboration with Laval University, put the proportion of those who trust “most news most of the time” at 49%. This proportion was 64% in 2018⁠3.

In October, the Léger firm revealed that 42% of the Quebec population has “little or no confidence” in information coming from traditional media. Among 18-34 year olds, lack of confidence rises to 44% and among 35-44 year olds, to 48%⁠4. Outside of Montreal and Quebec, 50% of the population doubts the media.

It is not going well.

However, despite these brutal observations, we too often reduce the crisis to that of the business model. For the decline in confidence, we are always given almost the same arguments.

We are first reminded that most institutions experience the same thing (politics, justice). That’s true, but one problem doesn’t erase the other.

We are also reminded of the essential role of the media as a counter-power, we are given examples of investigations which have changed things, we are told about the fight against disinformation, etc. Fine, but you can very well have an essential function and perform it poorly.

We are also told that trust would increase if people better understood the work of the media. This response is the equivalent of that of the politician who has just lost his election and who claims to have failed to get his message understood. No. People understood very well. They make a judgment and the media must take this into account.

We are also reminded that there have never been so many readers. That’s true, but barely 1 in 10 people are willing to subscribe to news sites. If people are not willing to pay for a product, the seller should ask questions.

We are ultimately told that criticizing the media is playing into the hands of Trump and all the lying populists of whom the rigorous media are, rightly, the worst enemies. At one time, Sartre, a communist, criticized Camus, another communist, for criticizing the Soviet Union. He accused him of “playing the game” of the right. History has shown that Camus was right. We must denounce everything that is wrong, even among our allies.

Revealing anecdote. Of course, the media are struggling to survive, but if they were so desperate to improve, they would find a way to give more strength, independence and funding to the Press Council which is, theoretically, the watchdog of their quality. But no. Last March, the Council was reduced to appealing for donations from the public to ensure its survival⁠5.

PHOTO HUGO-SÉBASTIEN AUBERT, LA PRESSE ARCHIVES

The Minister of Culture and Communications, Mathieu Lacombe, is expected to announce new support measures for the media this year.

Mr. Lacombe is expected to announce other media support measures this year. This government commitment, consisting in particular of public money, would be better received by the population if the latter felt a desire on the part of the media to improve their practices.

For a free and democratic society to remain free and democratic, it must have a strong media. For what ? Because their criticisms require actors in society to constantly question themselves. The media should do the same.

1. Marc-François Bernier is notably the author of The target – Counter-investigation into media mistreatment (on the tragedy of Dr Alain Sirard).


reference: www.lapresse.ca

Leave a Comment