Not too long ago, a strange editorial appeared in La Presse. Agnès Gruda, an editorial writer for the Montreal daily newspaper, scolded the Bloc Québécois for going too far in demonizing the Mohawks.
“Barely a day has passed without the Bloc denouncing, often with reason, the government’s handling of the native dossier,” Gruda complained.
“Taken individually, the recriminations of the Bloc are not without foundation,” she wrote. “But the indignation with which the Bloc is flogging the native horse is surprising and dangerous.” Is the Bloc trying to “build its political capital on hate and intolerance?”
Gruda’s editorial is strange not only because it took her two months to finally comment on the Bloc’s anti-native campaign in the House of Commons. What’s really bizarre about it is that it appears in a newspaper that leads the pack when it comes to native-bashing.
Gruda’s editorial appeared in the March 17 issue of La Presse.
That same day, three of the five stories on the front cover were native-related. Across the top of the page was a blaring headline that said a hydro-tower was bombed at Kahnawake. A second story said that the chief of Kahnawake, Joe Norton, who La Presse regularly portrays like Saddam Hussein, may replace Ovide Mercredi at the head of the Assembly of First Nations. The third story reported that alcohol smuggling, regularly linked to the Mohawks in La Presse, is on the rise.
But that wasn’t all. The rest of that day’s La Presse had five more stories about native people. Now if all these stories were balanced, this much coverage could be a good thing. But they were anything but balanced. Nearly all the stories were biased or misleading.)
One article was entitled, “General indignation against request of Wendat Huron Nation.” This story quoted ecologists who ridiculed the Hurons for seeking recognition for their trapping rights on traditional lands. “It’s a farce,” said one ecologist. “It’s a provocation and I simply have the desire to respond by laughing.” “There will be nothing left for the whites,” complained another ecologist.
Not one Huron was quoted in the story.
March 17 was a typical day for La Presse. The Nation conducted a survey of La Presse’s news coverage between Feb. 17 and March 19. We found that barely a day goes by without this newspaper publishing a sensationalistic or biased article about native peoples.
In 29 issues of La Presse, we found 54 native-related articles—nearly two per issue. Of these, 17 appeared on the front page, which is usually reserved for the most important stories. Virtually all the stories somehow managed to link aboriginal peoples to cigarette or arms dealing, tax-evasion and scandals involving First Nations leaders is biased.
The worrisome thing is that the owner of La Presse has the ear of some of the country’s top political leaders. Paul Desmarais is the second-richest man in Quebec, and is a close friend and advisor to Jean Chretien and Brian Mulroney.
The Feb. 19 issue was typical. The front cover featured a prominent article about the financial problems of the Kanehsatake band council. Inside we were treated to an editorial by Alain Dubuc arguing that aboriginal peoples should start paying taxes in order to “regain their dignity. ”
Especially noteworthy was a hysterical column by Lysiane Gagnon which called for an end to all government funding and negotiations with the Mohawks until “order” is “restored” in the Mohawk communities. “Some day, we need to attack the problem of the Mohawk reserves,” Gagnon wrote, “not only because they have become a royal highway for contraband (yesterday tobacco, today alcohol… and tomorrow, what? crack?), but because they have been turned by elements connected to organized crime into hotbeds of criminal culture.”
For comparison, The Nation also surveyed the Globe and Mail. In 22 issues of the paper, the Globe published only 23 native-related stories—about one per issue. Native news got on the front cover of the Globe only eight times, or half as often as in La Presse. On the other hand, the Globe’s stories were also much more balanced. They included even-handed coverage of the indigenous rebellion in Mexico, the Arctic Games and efforts to create a community justice system on a Manitoba reserve—in other words, a very different approach than La Presse.
In our survey, we looked for one passage in La Presse that captures the essence of this journal’s unique approach to native issues—a passage that would explain why 52 percent of francophone Quebecers believe natives have a better quality of life than they do. We found it in Lysiane Gagnon’s column on Feb. 19: “Because we don’t know anything about what happens on the reserves, we are led to imagine the worst.