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The struggle for press self-regulation in contemporary South Africa: charting a - page 36 / 51

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Another means of accountability is provided by the 35 or so newspapers in North America, including six in Canada, that have ombudsmen. News ombudsmen take complaints from readers and sources, and can be viewed as internal third parties to whom unsatisfied claimants can appeal.

The only Quebec newspaper with an ombudsman is the Montreal Gazette, which created such a position in 1981. The Gazette ombudsman can order corrections, and writes a regular column that sometimes is critical of the newspaper. Although reporters and editors may value an ombudsman's work (Langlois & Sauvageau, 1989), and although readers generally react favourably to an ombudsman (Bernstein, 1986; Hartung, Jacoby, & Dozier, 1988), many ombudsmen see themselves more as fulfilling a public relations role for the newspaper than as being strong reader advocates (Ettema & Glasser, 1987).

The system of media accountability also includes various mechanisms that are not directly connected to resolving complaints from audience members or sources. Ethics codes to guide journalistic behaviour are one such mechanism, and many Quebec news organizations have ethics codes. Among the reasons one journalist gave for favouring ethics codes is that they are "peut-être nécessaires aussi pour éviter de se faire taper trop souvent sur les doigts par le Conseil de presse" (Gagnon, 1986, p. 62). Despite the enthusiasm of many for ethics codes, however, it is far from clear that they systematically influence journalistic behaviour (Pritchard & Morgan, 1989).

Another mechanism of media accountability is public media criticism, a form of professional self-regulation that is alive and well in Quebec. Le 30, a monthly with links to la Fédération professionnelle des journalistes du Québec, and La Dépêche, a bimonthly published by la Fédération nationale des communications, regularly offer penetrating critiques of media performance. In addition, since 1979 each issue of Le 30 has contained a critique of selected QPC decisions by Jacques Guay, a former journalist now on the faculty of le Département d'information et de communication at Université Laval. Guay's role is an interesting one; he is the institutional critic of the QPC, which is an institutional critic of the press, which is an institutional critic of government.

At the periphery of the system of media accountability are provisions in union contracts. The collective bargaining agreements in effect at many Quebec news organizations guarantee certain professional prerogatives to journalists covered by the agreements (Gagnon, 1980). However, their contribution to media accountability can be questioned. Some portions of the contracts may actually work against accountability by guaranteeing journalists space in the newspaper to respond to critical letters, a practice that Laplante (1986) believes may inhibit readers from writing critical letters. On the other hand, the contract at Quebec's largest-circulation newspaper--Le Journal de Montréal--requires that the employer publish "toute

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