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The struggle for press self-regulation in contemporary South Africa: charting a - page 43 / 51





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Le Conseil de presse du Québec n'est pas un tribunal. Il ne jouit d'aucun pouvoir législatif, judiciaire ou réglementaire. Son rôle est essentiellement celui d'un ombudsman de l'information. Sa seule autorité en est une d'ordre moral dont la reconnaissance et le respect reposent sur l'appui éclairé des médias et des professionels de l'information ainsi que sur la confiance du public. (Règlement général 3.1.1)

The final difference between courts and press councils to be discussed in this article has to do with the clarity of their respective jurisprudences.

Press law in Quebec, as elsewhere in North America, is largely judge-made law. Relevant statutes and constitutional provisions are almost unavoidably vague; the law must be interpreted by judges in the familiar common-law fashion. Rules of law thus established can be used as precedent in subsequent cases. This process takes place even in Quebec, which is a civil-law province.

Because rules of law are established in large measure through court cases, it is important that cases be indexed and accessible to lawyers and others who are interested in knowing the law. A variety of publications serves this clientele. Lawyers are trained to use law libraries, which contain official law reports as well as specialized topical services. All of the official law reports are indexed, and services are available that enable lawyers to determine a case's value as precedent.

For the non-specialist such as a journalist or journalism student, several books that summarize law as it relates to the news media have been published in Quebec (Vallières & Sauvageau, 1981; Trudel, 1984; Vallières, 1985) and elsewhere (Martin & Adam, 1989). Whatever the shortcomings of press law, it at least is indexed and accessible.

The legal system's organization of its jurisprudence stands in sharp contrast with the disorganization of the Quebec Press Council's corpus of decisions, which the QPC calls its jurisprudence. Although the QPC has more than 800 cases from which to derive ethical principles to guide journalistic work, the principles have never been systematically derived from the body of decisions. QPC decisions almost never cite previous cases, which makes it impossible for lawyers or journalists (or anyone else) to determine any given case's value as precedent. J. Serge Sasseville, the Quebecor lawyer who has had extensive dealings with the QPC, was candid about his frustration with the QPC. "They don't know what they're doing," he said (Sasseville interview, 1990).

The QPC decided in the late 1970s not to write an ethics code for Quebec journalists, but instead to let its doctrine evolve in common-law fashion, with the idea that the principles that emerged from the study of hundreds of cases would be compiled into a set of ethical principles that would guide journalistic work (Sauvageau & de Bonville, 1978). However sound that

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