Source : Toronto Star
In an age when politics seems run by focus groups, pollsters and spin doctors, Quebecers have just offered up a reminder that people really can count. At least when you get enough of them dancing and screaming on Parliament Hill.
The lesson comes courtesy of CHOI-FM, the "trash-talk" radio station that was supposed to go silent at midnight Aug. 31. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, guardian of the public airwaves, said it would yank the Quebec city station's licence because it thinks CHOI-FM's shock jocks talk too much trash.
Well, the CRTC blinked this week. Instead of pulling the plug as promised, the commission played nice and asked the Federal Court to let the station stay on the air for the next seven months. The judges agreed, meaning CHOI-FM will broadcast until the appeals court rules on whether or not the CRTC acted unconstitutionally by playing censor, as the station owners claim.
Now, if CHOI-FM is so dangerous to the public peace - with its tragically unfunny jokes about gassing the mentally ill and calling black students the descendents of cannibals - why isn't anybody complaining about this lengthy reprieve?
Sure, it's usually fair to let a business continue on until a court makes its ruling. But there is more than a little politics here, too.
Whatever one thinks of CHOI-FM's right to exist, there's no denying it has become a powerful political force in Quebec. That's what happens when you can get 50,000 people to march in the streets, have more than 200,000 people sign "free speech" petitions and get 7,000 to take a day off work and pay $35 for a five-hour bus ride to Ottawa, so they can stand in the rain and yell "Liberte! Liberte! Liberte!" under the Peace Tower. The CRTC commissioners - and the politicians - never expected such outrage.
The political class in Quebec now regards CHOI-FM, No. 1 in its market with an almost cult-like following, as a seriously hot potato.
For Prime Minister Paul Martin, the fear is having the Liberal government blamed for shutting down the station. Heritage Minister Liza Frulla, a Quebecer, can go on explaining that the CRTC is independent and above politics. But CHOI listeners aren't buying it. When they took over Parliament Hill a few weeks ago, many wore anti-Martin tags. That's bad news, given that the Liberals need to build bridges with francophone voters around Quebec city if they hope for a majority after the next election.
It's the same for Quebec's provincial politicians, who are now fighting a by-election in the Quebec city riding of Vanier. Hoping to coax CHOI-FM listeners to the Liberals, Premier Jean Charest has attacked the CRTC decision. Action Democratique du Quebec leader Mario Dumont got his own share of the headlines by calling for an emergency session of the National Assembly, an idea shot down by Charest.
Parti Quebecois leader Bernard Landry, left his party's strategists scrambling. He actually came out in favour of the CRTC, in effect endorsing a federal agency that wants to shut down a Quebec-owned business. Hardly the expected reflex of most Quebec nationalists and possibly a blunder, because if anything can swing the upcoming by-election, it could be CHOI-FM listeners who are angry at Landry.
Still, Landry deserves credit for sticking to his guns and saying what most other pols won't. He detests CHOI, like most of Quebec city's political elite. That's because the station attacks politicians personally and mercilessly (though listeners would argue with humour and fearless precision).
CHOI's trash-talk announcers, who count the Parti Quebecois and Landry as favorite targets, may be rude and crude. But they seem to be giving people what they want, attracting more than 300,000 listeners. The secret to their success seems to be keeping political scandals at a boil and putting politicians on the hot seat.
That was displayed last year, when police uncovered a juvenile prostitution ring, allegedly involving some of Quebec city's leading citizens. It was CHOI-FM that kept the issue alive, a journalistic service. But it was also CHOI's announcers and call-in guests who offered up conspiracy theories, with dark hints that other, important politicians were involved in the sex ring but managed to use their power to avoid being nabbed.
It made for good politician-bashing. But, understandably, Quebec's politicians were furious about being smeared.
But the PQ and its leader now appear to be on to a new idea to deal with CHOI-FM: Why not start up their own radio station?
Parti Quebecois members are hoping to start up their own radio station on the Internet. Instead of "trash radio," Quebecers will be able to listen to "radio souverainiste," advertised as a way of getting out the separatist message, day in day out.
Who do you think will get the better ratings?
© The Toronto Star