Thursday, July 22, 2004

CRTC: Tool of the Oppressor

I'm posting this whole article because it is of paramount importance that it is read in full:


Censoring a voice of reason
His critics say he is vulgar -- but Jeff Fillion's real 'crime' was that he dared skewer Quebec's sacred cows

Frederick Tetu
National Post

Thursday, July 22, 2004

QUEBEC CITY - If it were only a question of good taste versus bad taste -- to be resolved on the basis of the half-dozen or so excerpts plucked from Jeff Fillion's program and circulated in the national press -- then the question of whether the CRTC was right to close down Quebec City's CHOI radio station would appear to be justified.

But there is much more to Fillion's show than vulgarity and sensationalism. Notwithstanding his occasional trashy put-downs, it is no stretch to call it a legitimate public-affairs program.

During the last federal election, for instance, Fillion gave airtime to just about any candidate who would call in or visit the station. Indeed, he got live interviews from Stephen Harper and Paul Martin's Quebec lieutenant, Jean Lapierre -- not to mention Helene Scherrer, then the minister responsible for the CRTC, who deigned to speak (at length) into the microphone her agency would seek to silence less than a month later.

Leaving aside the legal issue of freedom of expression and the political issue of the scope of the CRTC's powers, I believe it is very much in the Canadian public interest that Fillion be kept on the air. The reason his station has ruffled so many feathers in Quebec City is not because Fillion is racy -- but because he has dared to express ideas that Quebec's nationalists deem heretical.

Observers in the rest of Canada might have already wondered why Quebec's nationalist leaders haven't leapt to Fillion's defence. Think about it: a federal institution, based in Ottawa and headed by an anglophone, closes the most popular radio station in Quebec city, the heart of Quebec's French heartland, for reasons of content. It would seem to be a golden opportunity for the likes of Bernard Landry and Gilles Duceppe to protect les interets du Quebec, and lambaste the CRTC for not being sensitive to francophones' preferences, for not understanding Quebec's unique character, and so forth. Since Quebecers often like to brag that they are more culturally permissive than English Canadians, the CRTC's decision could easily have been cast as an act of Anglo-Saxon Puritanism.

Yet none of this has happened. On the contrary, Agnes Maltais, a former Parti Quebecois minister from Quebec city, and one of the only surviving PQ MNAs in the region, was quick this week to tell anyone who would listen that the CRTC's decision was "une decision juste."

But this sanguine reaction should not come as a surprise. Jeff Fillion -- along with Andre Arthur, the anchor of CHOI's sister station -- has long been disliked by Quebec's separatists.

Being a francophone born in Quebec, Fillion knows the province from the inside -- his father was even elected as a Bloc MP in 1993 -- and has the clout to criticize it like no anglophone can. He has very good rhetorical (some would say demagogic) skills and has long decided that something is rotten in the kingdom of Bernard Landry and Jacques Parizeau.

Unlike most francophone federalists, who are of the soft-nationalistic ilk, and so go soft in their attacks on separatists, Fillion takes no prisoners. Indeed, he is perhaps the only well-known French public voice in the province whose attacks against separatism are full-throated and passionate.

When his morning show was first aired in 1998, Fillion was an unknown from out of town and CHOI was the least listened-to commercial radio station in the market. In the provincial election that took place that November, the PQ won 17 of the 19 ridings in the Quebec City area. But last year, with Fillion having become the number one morning man in the region, attacking the PQ relentlessly and actively backing Mario Dumont's ADQ party, support for the PQ plummeted dramatically. The PQ went from 17 MNAs to only two. Apart from Dumont's Riviere-du-Loup riding, Quebec city was the only region in the whole province where the ADQ managed to have MNAs elected.

Fillion's audience is made up of young francophones, the kind of voters who are expected to comprise the shock troops of separatism. Day in, day out, he encourages them to refuse the herd mentality of the statist, Quebec model. His ideology is libertarian. (Last winter, for instance, he was one of the few Quebecers who defended Don Cherry's right to say what he did about French hockey players.) And he believes the separatists' national project would add nothing to the rights, freedoms and prosperity we already enjoy. On the contrary, he believes the corporatism and protectionism underlying the nationalistic project threaten these rights. As Fillion sees it, separation would allow Quebec politicians to dramatically extend the interventionist politics that have sprouted since the revolution tranquille.

In fact, when someone pleaded on his show last week that the CRTC's decision to shut down CHOI would become a big argument in favour of Quebec sovereignty, Fillion brutally replied that in a sovereign Quebec we would have a "CRTQ" that would only be worse than the Canadian version.

Fillion rejects Quebec parochialism. One of his most constant criticisms of the Quebec system is that public schools do not train young francophones in English early enough and well enough to make them truly mobile in the collective North American workplace. He has no qualms about advising young Quebecers to make their fortunes elsewhere. He points to Ralph Klein's Alberta and Mike Harris's Ontario as the models that we should try to emulate in Quebec.

For many in the Quebec City region, it was refreshing to hear someone like Fillion countering the primal and inchoate anti-Americanism that came to the surface last year, someone to remind us of how vital economic ties with the United States are to a province that depends heavily on its exports south of the border.

In addition, Fillion is an unabashed supporter of Israel's right to protect itself against terrorist attacks. He has even decried the pro-Palestinian leanings of Quebecers as a hypocritical expression of anti-Semitism.

All this -- more than any comment about breasts or bombshells -- has been Fillion's real heresy.

But Fillion's "crimes" go further: Virtually alone among media figures, he has the courage to criticize the poor quality of many Quebecois artists and entertainers, including not only the marginal has-beens of the province's show-business scene, but also the mainstream content served up by the major TV and radio networks.

Last March, he had at his microphone Quebec Finance Minister Yves Seguin for a lengthy discussion about the provincial budget that had just been presented. The interview went so well that the conversation went beyond the provincial budget and Seguin opened up a little. When Fillion asked whether the new technological and cultural context had rendered Tele-Quebec, the province's state-owned TV station, obsolete, Seguin answered that the network's mandate certainly had to be thoroughly revised -- and that selling Tele-Quebec to private interests or closing it down completely might even be possible scenarios.

The comments precipitated a political brouhaha, with the Minister of Culture promptly contradicting her colleague from Finance. Premier Jean Charest himself had to deny any plan to deeply restructure Tele-Quebec (even though it would fit squarely with his Liberals' program of state re-engineering).

Tele-Quebec is one of several taboos in Quebec that no media voice dares call into question. The common thinking in the media is that the Quebec market is so small that public figures must close ranks around established cultural icons. Thanks to media concentration, the pool of potential employers is tiny -- and many media employees feel they cannot afford to alienate anyone.

Fillion breached that code of silence. And the province's media moguls -- the people who cater to the CRTC, and who wine and dine its officials when required -- were none too happy. These are people with a vested interest in seeing Fillion and his radio station taken off the air. Now that the CRTC has made its decision, they can hope to buy CHOI's licence on the cheap.

The irony of the CRTC's move is that CHOI has made a significant contribution to Quebec's marketplace of ideas, bringing diversity to a media space that is parochial and orthodox -- exactly the sort of goal the CRTC is supposed to advance. This is why it is so ironic to hear the CRTC lecture CHOI for violating "Canadian values."

In fact, if there is one "Canadian value" that should trump all others, should it not be that Canada stands as a united country? Fillion, far from violating this tenet, has done more than just about any media figure in Canada to promote it through his fight against Quebec separatism.

Quebec has a long-standing tradition of oppressing minority views. And on several occasions in its history, some federal institutions came to the rescue and offered protection. The CRTC has now turned the tables -- becoming, in effect, a censor of dissent; and, albeit indirectly and inadvertently, an agent of separatism. Given the federal Liberal governments strong efforts to promote federalism in Quebec, one can only hope that Paul Martin's government is paying attention to Jeff Fillion's plight, and is preparing to reverse its agency's misguided decision.

© National Post 2004

Its time to start emailing, start talking and get moving on this one.

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