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Quebecor chief executive Pierre Karl Peladeau waits to testify before the Commons access-to-information committee on Oct. 20, 2011. (Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Quebecor chief executive Pierre Karl Peladeau waits to testify before the Commons access-to-information committee on Oct. 20, 2011. (Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

CBC 'cannot be immune from public scrutiny,' Quebecor chief says Add to ...

The head of Quebecor has unleashed a tirade against the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, saying the public broadcaster has been deliberately withholding information requested by the reporters in his media chain.

“As the Crown corporation that receives the largest subsidy from the Canadian Parliament, CBC-Radio Canada cannot be immune from public scrutiny,” Pierre Karl Péladeau told the Commons access to information, privacy and ethics committee on Thursday.

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Many of the requests for information that have been filed with the CBC since it became subject to access laws in 2007 have come from Quebecor and its subsidiary, Sun Media. As Canada’s largest media organization, Quebecor is a major competitor of the CBC and takes issue with the fact the public broadcaster receives $1-billion a year in taxpayer funding.

Mr. Péladeau said the access requests have been met with “proactive delays, exorbitant demands for search fees, numerous complaints, and, in the end, very little information to Canadians about how the state broadcaster managed public funds.”

Most of the exclusions have been made on the basis of journalistic, creative and programming activities, Mr. Peladeau said. The CBC has argued that it is protecting journalistic sources, but Mr. Péladeau insisted his organization has never requested information about a source.

Instead, the requests have focused on things like travel expenses, outdoor advertising expenses, a commercial agreement to create a new magazine and the budget for the 75th anniversary of CBC and Radio Canada, CBC’s French-language arm.

When Quebecor asked about the CBC’s fleet of vehicles, it received a single line of type mentioning a lone 2007 Ford, Mr. Péladeau said. Another 17 pages of information had been redacted.

“Despite what some may think – in other words that we are waging a war against CBC-Radio Canada – we believe that these requests are not only legal but also legitimate and in the public interest and in keeping with the [Access to Information]Act,” Mr. Péladeau told MPs.

He went on to accuse all other media organizations in Canada, including The Globe and Mail, CTV, the National Post, La Presse and The Canadian Press, of having entered into financial and journalistic arrangements with the public broadcaster that make it impossible for them to ask arm’s-length questions about the CBC.

In the case of The Globe, he said, the paper receives advertising money and profits from the sale of material to the CBC from the Canadian Press because it has a financial stake in the wire service.

Mr. Péladeau complained that the CBC had pulled all its advertising from his papers, a move that he said was an act of retribution for Quebecor’s decision to take a critical look at the broadcaster.

When it was time for questioning, NDP MP Charlie Angus asked Mr. Péladeau why the hundreds of media outlets he controls are all waging the same campaign against the CBC. Mr. Angus pointed to an independent report that found journalists within Quebecor were ordered to write articles attacking Radio Canada and asked Mr. Péladeau if there was any journalistic independence within his organization.

Mr. Péladeau said he had no idea where the information in the report was obtained. “Our reporters and journalistic resources have their job to do an no one will tell them what to write,” he told Mr. Angus.

Liberal MP Scott Andrews asked why reporters would be asking about things like outdoor advertising and a commercial magazine, suggesting that the access requests were aimed more at obtaining corporate information than journalistic endeavours.

“You would relate that to commercial matters. I would relate this to information requests that Canadians have the right to know,” Mr. Péladeau replied.

On Wednesday, the CBC fought back against the sustained attack from Quebecor, accusing the private broadcaster of receiving $500-million in public subsidies over the last three years without being accountable to taxpayers.

Mr. Péladeau said that was “completely defamatory and dangerous.” The numbers, he said, are false and malicious. “This is completely ludicrous,” he said, “I have never seen something so ridiculous.”

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