Quebecor Media Inc. (QMI) has used its vast media empire to control its journalists, evade press standards and try to carve out its own path in the Canadian media universe, CBC/Radio-Canada investigative program Enquête reported in a special about the company this month. “Quebecor is no longer a satellite in the information industry,” Brian Myles, president of La fédération professionnelle des journalistes du Québec, said in an interview with Radio-Canada reporter Guy Gendron in a report that aired Nov. 3. “It’s a planet that creates its own gravity and spins in orbit in its own solar system.” An Enquête reporter, Gendron examined QMI’s size and power in the Quebec and Canadian media sectors. Parent company Quebecor Inc. became a major integrated player in the provincial media market in 2000 when it created QMI and purchased telecom company Vidéotron Ltée. and French-language TV network Groupe TVA Inc. At the time, the government of Quebec said it was concerned that approving the acquisitions would create a “media monster,” Gendron reported. He reported that Agnès Maltais, former Quebec minister of culture and communications, told officials from QMI in a 2001 meeting that the company’s convergence could allow it to make or break the careers of artists and journalists. “Someone said that when you possess the pipe, you have the tendency to also control the jet,” Maltais said, according to the report. To alleviate the provincial government’s concerns, Luc Lavoie, then vice-president of executive affairs at Quebecor (who is now in another executive position with the company), told the government that the company would follow a series of rules to ensure its corporate integrity. Lavoie told the Quebec government that Quebecor publications would be part of the Conseil de presse du Québec, which deals with complaints from the public regarding the ethics of their journalistic practices. He added that Quebecor would keep supporting the Canadian Press agency. According to the program, Lavoie also told the government that the company would establish vertical firewalls between different newsrooms and horizontal firewalls between the newsroom and Quebecor’s head office. Those firewalls were supposed to ensure “that the content of one media would not be used another one or would not be used across all the board, from one media to the other,” Gendron reported. More than 10 years later, Quebecor possesses 76 newspapers in the province and 200 publications across Canada. It also owns 15 publishing houses and sells 22 million magazines per year. In all, Quebecor holds a 37 per cent plurality share of the province’s information market, Gendron added in an interview about his investigation with Bernard St-Laurent on Radio-Canada’s C’est la vie last week. Quebecor left the Conseil de presse du Québec in 2010, which was extended into Ontario as it pulled out of the Ontario Press Council this summer. “Quebecor pulled out of the CP and created its own rival press agency,” Gendron added in the interview. John Gomery, a former Quebec Superior Court judge and now president of the Conseil de presse du Québec, told Enquête that Quebecor’s moves were unfair to competitors. “It’s not fair that other papers make their contributions to the operation costs of the Conseil de presse and the most important papers do not make any contributions to the function of an institution that is generally considered to be necessary,” he said. Gendron reported that Quebecor had become a “model of convergence” and let down the firewalls between its media outlets. He also said that Radio-Canada obtained evidence that Quebecor sought to control its journalists. Enquête reported that emails obtained from David Patry, a former Journal de Montreal reporter, showed that the results of a survey were modified to satisfy interests of Quebecor brass. “We had emails sent to David Patry from his Quebecor superior, ordering him to change names on his list of the most influential people in the cultural industry of Quebec,” Gendron said on C’est la vie. Patry also told Gendron in an interview that a journalist should be independent but now “our employer is manipulating us.” Gendron said this was not an isolated case. He cited a survey conducted by Marc François Bernier, research chair of journalism ethics at the University of Ottawa, that found that journalists working for Quebecor “are in a state of professional distress in terms of integrity and self-censorship.” Quebecor did not respond to a request for comment, but the company has rejected suggestions of journalist manipulation. In an eight-page statement to Enquête last February, posted on the CBC's website, Quebecor said journalists are “free agents” but they “do not rent a desk in a newsroom as a hairdresser rents a chair in a salon where they receive their own customers freely.” Publishers, editors and news directors must make decisions about editorial content and assignments, the company said, but they are “not there to to control the information.” Quebecor said media convergence helps journalists share information and devote more time to concentrate on stories that are of a higher interest to its audience. "We believe that convergence is an inevitable response to audience fragmentation and the erosion of traditional sources of advertising revenues arising from the proliferation of sources," Quebecor said. This summer, Quebec's Ministry of Culture and Communication launched a public consultation on an official designation for Quebec journalists with a view to ensuring journalistic standards. The Radio-Canada report comes as Quebecor's QMI news agency and Sun News Network continues its critical reporting of the CBC with regular features such as the “CBC Money Drain.” Quebecor and the public broadcaster are also immersed in a public and legal battle over what types of documents the CBC can withhold from requests made under the Access to Information Act. Delayed or redacted responses to requests have caused politicians and critics to question how the CBC spends its annual parliamentary appropriations of $1.1 billion, with Quebecor's news agencies serving as some of the most vocal. Hubert Lacroix, president of CBC/Radio-Canada, has said the delays were caused by a sudden influx of information requests that occurred after the Crown corporation was brought under the Act in 2007, and that Quebecor had filed at least 400 of these requests. Enquête reported that Radio-Canada has been investigating Quebecor since last year. Ian Morrison, a spokesman for watchdog group the Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, said in an interview that he would be surprised if Radio-Canada's senior executives ordered the investigative report in retaliation to attacks from Quebecor. “Regardless of their behaviour—with their very size, especially in the Quebec market—they are kind of a dominant sector player,” he said. “So it’s a legitimate subject to cover their behaviour.” Morrison added that the Enquête report takes significant time to put together. “I would be quite surprised if any evidence could come to light suggesting that this were something Hubert Lacroix or ordered.” Vidéotron provides services to 1.8 million cable subscribers, 1.2 million Internet subscribers and 1.1 million telephone customers in the province—and Morrison said Vidéotron is a form of gatekeeper. “If Quebec were a country, the concentration of ownership in Quebec would be a lot stronger than any other Western democracy I’m aware of,” Morrison said. He added that QMI’s Sun newspaper chain is also a major player outside Quebec. email@example.com --- CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misspelled Agnès Maltais' name.