CANADA

The silent spring of election ’81

DAVID THOMAS April 6 1981
CANADA

The silent spring of election ’81

DAVID THOMAS April 6 1981

The silent spring of election ’81

Quebec

Often assailed for their presumed pro-separatist prejudice, the CBC’s striking Quebec journalists last week seemed even more swayed by pride and avarice. With a curiously lowkey provincial election campaign already half over, 169 (of 200) striking journalists voted to stay off the airplanes and the airwaves when they rejected a contract offer that would be the envy of most voters—and media colleagues. As a result, CBC management decided to scrub preparations for election-night coverage April 13.

Even before striking nearly five months ago, the journalists, members of Syndicat général du cinéma et de la télévision (CNTU), earned an average $33,000 annually and the offer they refused would, says the CBC, inflate that to $45,500 (including overtime) a year by March, 1982, and hand the strikers an immediate lump sum of $3,500 in lieu of retroactivity.

Though polished in their perfor-

mance, the CBC’s Quebec reporters are generally less newshounds than show dogs and are jealous of their self-appointed guardianship of “the public’s right to know”—a principle they want written into their labor agreement. Even union President Bernard Larin admits, however, that the issue is minor and that the last time management

intervened in daily reporting was during the October Crisis of 1970, when most Canadian media felt constrained by regulations in the War Measures Act. But public concern about the absence of late-evening newscasts* is inaudible and attempts to imbue it with historic significance—usually made by English-language media from outside Quebec—are ridiculed by the strikers themselves. Says striking CBC National reporter Don MacPherson: “It’s a

straight bread-and-butter strike.” (Meanwhile, the quiet campaign may be a closer race than widely thought. Two polls last weekend showed the PQ ahead in popular vote, surprising since the Liberals are broadly assumed to be the next government.)

Though the union maintains its demand for yet more money, it is clearthat the refusal to return to work was as much motivated by a union desire to save face. The take-it-or-leave-it ultimatum attached to the CBC offer was an affront to the journalists’ pride, says union leader Larin: “There isn’t a single striker without some personal resentment toward management.”

News bosses at CBC’s French-language service, Radio-Canada, accuse the strikers of wanting to usurp power

*In Quebec, English viewers still see The National, which is produced in Toronto, but no local news. All news programs are gone from the CBC’s French networks, TV and radio. Public affairs shows, however, are unaffected.

in the newsroom. Says management spokesman Paul Rousseau: “It’s a kind of new Mafia which is insisting that anyone crossing the line into management has no business dealing with news.” 'Meanwhile, journalists at the rival privately owned French-language station, Télé-Métropole, called a news conference to denounce their own station’s election coverage. Télé-Métropole reporters complained that management was favoring reports from its TVA network affiliates over those of its own

pouting prima donnas. Such affronts to the star system are a bigger issue for some journalists than any in the campaign for control of Quebec’s government, a campaign ironically pitting former TV star René Lévesque against onetime newspaper luminary Claude Ryan. Both the premier and the Liberal leader shone in Quebec’s media firmament. Now, because some of their successors seemed dazzled by the pursuit of gold and glory, their campaign for power has been dimmed from public view.

DAVID THOMAS