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The struggle for press self-regulation in contemporary South Africa: charting a - page 31 / 51





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Résumé: Cet article analyse le fonctionnement du Conseil de presse du Québec et son efficacité comme tribunal d'honneur où sont adressées et traitées les plaintes concernant l'éthique journalistique. Les données de base proviennent des 800 dossiers du CPQ et de plusieurs entrevues.

Peter Desbarats has written that "the whole question of accountability remains one of the great unresolved issues of contemporary journalism" (Desbarats, 1990, p. 172). One difficulty in resolving the issue is the fact that scholars and journalists lack an adequate understanding of accountability (Christians, 1989). "The discussion of media accountability," the editors of a recent book on accountability wrote, "remains in a conceptual muddle" (Dennis & Gillmor, 1989, p. viii).

This article rests on the assumption that the conceptual muddle cannot be clarified without careful exploration of how mechanisms of media accountability actually function. The article approaches media accountability from the perspective of consumers of media content; accountability is conceptualized as a process set in motion by people who complain, who seek to hold the media accountable.

Among the important mechanisms of media accountability are press councils. The article offers a brief overview of the North American experience with press councils, and then explores how one of them--the Quebec Press Council--functions as a mechanism of media accountability.

This article is not intended to be the definitive work on the Quebec Press Council. Rather, my hope is that it can situate the QPC (and perhaps other mechanisms of media accountability) in an analytical context that can help provide the foundation for future studies.

My understanding of how the QPC handles disputes comes from direct observation, interviews, and an examination of the documents in each of the almost 800 case files that had been completed by July 1989. I spent June and July of that year going through the files in the QPC's Quebec City office. I read letters of complaint, news stories that sparked complaints, private memos between members of the press council staff, draft rulings, final rulings, news stories about the rulings, and any other documents that were in the files. In addition, I was permitted to observe a day-long meeting of the QPC's Comité des cas, which meets in private several times a year to make rulings on complaints.

Other information came from interviews or correspondence with about 20 people who have been involved with the QPC in various ways over the years. The list of informants includes journalists, lawyers, academics, and current and former QPC staff members. I also read many articles about press councils in Canadian journalism reviews (e.g., Content, Le 30).


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