d'une intelligence complète du corpus des décisions."
Discussion and Conclusions
This article's overview of press councils has attempted to illustrate aspects of a system of media accountability. In principle, press councils offer unsatisfied claimants a forum they can use to hold the media accountable.
The value of such a forum is all the greater in light of evidence that most people who sue the press for libel do so more to set the record straight and to restore their reputations than to win money damages. If a more efficient, less legalistic means of setting the record straight were available, many libel plaintiffs say they would use it instead of going to court (Bezanson, Cranberg, & Soloski, 1987).
As this article has demonstrated, press councils can provide the kind of justice most libel plaintiffs say they would like. Press councils are quicker and cheaper than courts, and they accept complaints from a broader range of "plaintiffs" about a broader range of problems. Although press councils cannot impose fines or send people to prison, the American survey suggests that what most complainers want is not a pound of media flesh, but rather an impartial review of press performance.
In practice, however, there are two major problems with press councils, at least as currently constituted in North America. Questions about press councils' impartiality have everything to do with who sits on the councils and who funds the councils. Twelve of the 19 members of the QPC, for example, come from the media, having been appointed either by journalists' organizations or by management organizations. More than 80% of the press council's funding comes from news organizations. These facts have been linked to the QPC's reluctance to question the rules of the journalistic game. Those who violate those rules may feel the sting of a QPC reproach, as happened in 63% of the complaints received in 1988. However, the QPC rarely questions whether routine journalistic practices are in the best interests of society as a whole.
Some, including Louis Falardeau and Jacques Guay, favour government financing of the QPC and increased public representation as means of giving the council greater independence from the media (Falardeau interview, 1990; Guay, 1990b). Such measures might meet with tremendous resistance from media interests, however.
The second unresolved issue is the extent to which press councils succeed in establishing the boundaries of responsible media behaviour. Whatever the problems of the Quebec Press Council in indexing and compiling its jurisprudence, it is the only North American press council that has published a summary of ethical principles (Les Droits et responsabilités de la presse).