Peladeau’s political jump raises media-coverage concerns

MONTREAL — The day after media tycoon Pierre Karl Peladeau’s plunge into provincial politics, he’s earning considerable praise in the pages of Quebec’s most-read newspaper — one he happens to own.

MONTREAL — The day after media tycoon Pierre Karl Peladeau’s plunge into provincial politics, he’s earning considerable praise in the pages of Quebec’s most-read newspaper — one he happens to own.

Columns in the flagship paper of Peladeau’s empire described the Parti Quebecois candidate as a magnificent catch, a game-changer for Premier Pauline Marois and bad news for supporters of Canadian unity.

Several opinion writers in Monday’s Le Journal de Montreal also said Peladeau delivers instant credibility to the pro-independence PQ as it tries to beef up its economic chops.

Peladeau stunned the province Sunday by announcing he would run alongside Marois to help the PQ win a majority mandate in the April 7 election.

The media baron’s new career is raising concerns about his media company’s influence on political coverage in Quebec — even though Peladeau has resigned as vice-chairman of Quebecor Media Inc. (TSX:QBR.B).

He’s insisted his media outlets would maintain independent coverage. Peladeau says he will retain his ownership stake in the company and place his investments in a blind trust.

Monday’s Le Journal de Montreal featured a front-page photo of Peladeau and a half-dozen columns that discussed Peladeau’s high-profile candidacy.

Michel Hebert wrote in a column titled, “Peladeau says Yes!” that Marois’s manoeuvre to land him was “a masterful coup!” and that it could be “decisive” in the outcome of the election.

On Page 3, J. Jacques Samson wrote that Peladeau was the biggest fish in Quebec society he had ever seen enter the political arena in half a century.

For her part, pro-Canada columnist Lise Ravary wrote, “For the Quebecer viscerally attached to the idea of Canada that I am, it’s very bad news.”

She also predicted he would set off “Peladeaumania” and “not just because his eyes are the colour of the Quebec flag.”

However, Peladeau’s decision to run also attracted criticism in the newspaper, as some columnists explored the negative sides.

Richard Martineau warned in the tabloid how Peladeau might divide people and how he could stir fears in the PQ’s left flank about the influence he might wield within the party.

Martineau also wrote how Peladeau’s presence within the PQ could push the party into a zone of “major turbulence.” On Page 2, the newspaper’s editor-in-chief wrote an editorial aimed at reassuring readers it would maintain its diverse opinions.

Dany Doucet said Peladeau would get the coverage he deserves.

“If he, and the PQ, have more-difficult days, they will get the suitable treatment,” he wrote.

Quebecor, founded by Peladeau’s father, has a number of holdings in Quebec, including Le Journal de Montreal and fellow tabloid Le Journal de Quebec, as well as the French-language TVA television network and the 24-hour TV news channel LCN. The company also owns Videotron, a Quebec cable TV and Internet provider.

Outside of the province, Quebecor owns the Sun chain of newspapers and the Sun News Network.

On Monday, Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard also expressed his concern about Peladeau’s political endeavour.

“We must ask what Mr. Peladeau’s direct influence is on the editorial line, on the front page, on the treatment of information by media outlets that he controlled before the election, during the election and after the election,” Couillard said.

“These questions have not had satisfactory answers.” Peladeau told reporters Monday he would not sell his Quebecor shares, even if he’s told to do so by the province’s ethics commissioner.

He said he will talk to commissioner Jacques Saint-Laurent if he’s elected April 7, so they can discuss any risks of conflict of interest between his company’s operations and those of the government.

But Peladeau insisted he would not off-load the shares. “I have no intention of selling my shares,” said Peladeau, Quebecor’s controlling shareholder.

“The proxy who will receive the mandate to manage the trust will have clear and precise guidelines — and selling Quebecor is out of the question.”

Peladeau also said he wants to ensure the company’s head office stays in Quebec. Marois, who joined Peladeau at Monday’s news conference, said he will have to abide by Saint-Laurent’s demands.

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