Quebecor Refusing to Pay Rent at Legislature
Montreal-based telecom and media giant, Quebecor, has announced it will no longer be paying rent at the provincial legislature.
The monthly rent of $8,448 is for its political journalists’ office in the National Assembly, the province’s legislative building. Annually, this amount accumulates to more than $100,000 before tax.
Quebecor, which owns media entities such as TVA television station, Journal de Montreal, and Journal de Quebec, says these rent charges compromise principles of accessibility and pose a threat to democratic life, reports The National Post.
Jad Barsoum, Quebecor’s vice-president, expressed in a letter to the legislature that the exorbitant fees are detrimental, especially amid a “serious crisis” in the media landscape. Barsoum highlighted the challenges of diminishing ad revenues influenced by Facebook and Google, which have consequently resulted in staff reductions at the company. This decline, he argues, jeopardizes citizens’ access to vital information and, in a broader sense, democracy’s well-being.
While Quebecor faces these challenges, other provinces have long been providing complimentary, albeit often shared and smaller, workspaces for reporters. For instance, in Halifax, the press gallery at the Nova Scotia House of Assembly has three individual offices located in the Province House’s basement.
New Brunswick’s press gallery members, who pay a yearly fee of $100, utilize a space equipped with desks in a building adjacent to the Legislative Assembly. In British Columbia, media professionals in the Legislative Assembly can access dedicated offices, and Ottawa’s Parliament Hill offers a free room with 25 desks for journalists.
Brent Jolly, the president of the Canadian Association of Journalists, voiced concerns over the hefty fees, deeming them as a potential “incentive for people to move out.” Emphasizing the importance of journalists in political coverage, Jolly advocates for more cost-effective press offices.
However, not everyone agrees with Quebecor’s perspective. Alfred Hermida, a professor at the University of British Columbia’s School of Journalism, considers Quebecor’s claims of a media crisis as an oversimplification. He points to Quebecor’s recent 25.4% Q2 revenue increase, amounting to $283.3 million, mainly due to its acquisition of telecom company Freedom Mobile. Quebecor also owns wireless provider Videotron.
Addressing the criticism, Quebecor’s CEO, Pierre Karl Peladeau, emphasized that it’s unreasonable to expect one subsidiary of Quebecor to support another. He firmly believes in treating each subsidiary independently and maintaining accountability to shareholders.
“It’s unreasonable to expect Videotron or Freedom to finance the media crisis, just as it’s unreasonable for the National Assembly to demand staggering rental fees, in excess of $100,000 a year, to cover all the societal issues debated there,” said Peladeau.