The importance of deriving ethical principles and making them available to the public should not be minimized. Without such guidelines, media consumers and journalists are condemned to ad hoc--and, too often, post hoc--reasoning about responsible media behaviour. Press councils in general have an educational role to which they should pay more attention.
The Quebec Press Council's future was murky in autumn 1990. Its constituent groups were at odds over the demand of la Fédération nationale des communications, the journalists' union, to be formally represented on the council. Management organizations said they would stop funding the QPC if the union were given formal representation; the result would be the demise of the council (Grandjean, 1990; Guay, 1990b; Martin, 1990). In addition, management organizations were considering setting up their own mechanisms of accountability, which might render the QPC superfluous (Comité sur le statut du Conseil, 1990). The press council was going through "la période la plus critique et la plus décisive de son histoire" (Conseil de presse du Québec, 1990), with an outcome that was impossible to predict.
Despite its imperfections, if the Quebec Press Council were to disappear, media consumers in Quebec would be the losers. Although it is difficult to identify with certainty a broad influence of the QPC on the quality of journalism in Quebec, the council has provided a forum for hundreds of unsatisfied media consumers since 1973. If the QPC dies, that valuable forum will be lost.
David Pritchard is an associate professor at Indiana University. The research reported in this article was supported by the Canadian Department of External Affairs, by the Indiana University Office of Research, and by the Indiana University Bureau of Media Research. The author wishes to thank Marie-Claude Grangier for valuable assistance, and the Quebec Press Council staff for their kindness (and for their willingness to put up with an intruder in the office for two months).
Since shortly after World War II, there has been a succession of community press councils in small and medium-sized cities in the United States. Because they act more as advisory boards to local editors than as forums for disputing, they are not considered in this article. The influence of such councils has been assessed by Atwood and Starck (1972). For an in-depth discussion, see Rivers et al. (1972).
To add to the confusion over what the categories are, a recent compilation of QPC doctrine by Jacques Guay in Le 30 had 26 categories, 83 sub-categories, and 56 sub-themes based on the 127 cases he had written about since he started writing his column on the QPC in April 1979 (Guay, 1990a).