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The struggle for press self-regulation in contemporary South Africa: charting a - page 39 / 51





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Related to issues of standing is a second area of difference between courts and press councils--jurisdiction. Even if a person has standing to bring a lawsuit, his or her complaint would have to be structured according to relevant tort law, which typically would mean framing the complaint in terms of libel or invasion of privacy. Not all breaches of ethics or good taste can be framed as torts.

However, all breaches of ethics or good taste can be framed as complaints to press councils. In fact, the vast majority of complaints to the QPC deal with matters that fall outside the boundaries of tort law. Complaints are frequently made about matters such as advertising masquerading as news, news organizations' refusing to publish letters to the editor, errors of fact in news stories, journalists' conflicts of interest, and propagation of ethnic stereotypes.

Even though the QPC can deal with a much broader range of media-related disputes than can courts, the precise boundaries of the council's jurisdiction have been a matter of dispute over the years. In 1984, for example, the QPC accepted a complaint against the contents of a bulletin published by a municipal government (Le parti civique de Val-Bélair c. L'impact de Val-Bélair, 1984). In Le 30, Jacques Guay severely criticized the decision, which he said mistook public relations for journalism. The bulletin was government public relations, and thus should have been outside the jurisdiction of the QPC, Guay wrote (Guay, 1984). A year later, a complaint was made about a story published by a student newspaper at Concordia University in Montreal. Despite the fact that The Concordian was much more of a journalistic product than was the bulletin published by the municipal government in the prior case, QPC staff member André Beaudet questioned whether the QPC had jurisdiction. "Il n'est pas évident que cette plainte relève du mandat et de la compétence du Conseil vu le statut du Concordian qui semble être un journal d'association plutôt qu'une entreprise de presse au sens où le Conseil l'entend habituellement," Beaudet wrote in a letter to the complainant (Julian Samuel c. Derek Conlon, The Concordian, 1985).

In the 1970s, a time of great tension between labour and management in Quebec newsrooms, many complaints to the QPC were related to labour disputes at news organizations. Often, the QPC accepted jurisdiction over such matters, to the chagrin of media managers. The media enterprises provide the lion's share of the QPC's funding, and at times the QPC received thinly veiled threats about what would happen to that funding if the QPC continued to take an expansive view of its jurisdiction.

In 1985, for example, a women's group asked a Radio-Canada television journalist to moderate a debate. Radio-Canada refused to allow the journalist to participate, asserting that her participation would be a conflict of interest. The journalist complained to the QPC, which ruled that the journalist had the same right as anyone else to participate in a public event as long as it was clear that she was not invited to participate as a representative of Radio-Canada

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