BUSINESS
01/31/2012 06:26 EST | Updated 04/01/2012 05:12 EDT

Rejean Beaudet, Quebecor Employee, Suspended Over 'Racism' Flap

MONTREAL - The Quebecor media organization has suspended an employee who alleged it treated ethnic minorities unfairly at one of its television networks.

The organization issued a statement announcing a three-month suspension Tuesday for the senior union representative for workers at its flagship French-language network, TVA.

It said Rejean Beaudet, the employee-union official, recently made unacceptable public comments during a spat between the network and a news anchor who is black.

"Mr. Beaudet made a number of false and dishonest claims about that particular issue, while also spreading unjustifiable allegations against the Groupe TVA alleging racism," Groupe TVA's president Pierre Dion said in a statement.

"This attacks the irreproachable reputation of the company regarding relations with the cultural communities of Quebec. These attacks are even more deplorable because many employees from more than a dozen of these communities have been in the employ of Groupe TVA for a long time and they contribute significantly to the success of the company."

Beaudet had complained in an interview with a competing media chain that his network gave short shrift to visible minorities.

He made the comments when the network demoted a black news anchor following an embarrassing on-air gaffe. The anchor, Melissa Francois, incorrectly referred to the late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il as "Kim Jong Two." That slipup became, in the French-speaking world, a viral video sensation on the Internet.

Francois was defended by her union rep. He said Francois had been reading off a mistake, made by someone else, and he suggested the instant punishment was unfair.

"These events are part of TVA News' chronic incapacity to give a fair part of its airtime to journalists from visible minorities or cultural (communities)," Beaudet told La Presse newspaper, a Quebecor competitor, several weeks ago. "In this respect, the more than doubtful treatment of Mrs. Francois sends a very bad signal."

The union, part of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, says Beaudet was simply doing his job as a labour rep and standing up for a worker. It intends to file a complaint with the federal labour-relations board.

"Mr. Beaudet was faced with a situation ... where he thought a member of the union, Melissa Francois in this case, had her rights infringed upon," said Denis Bolduc, secretary general of the union.

"He has a responsibility to represent her. He does the things he needs to do. He denounces the situation. He asks that Mrs. Francois be returned to the airwaves.

"And today TVA is blaming him for doing that. If he hadn't done that, Mrs. Francois would have been within her rights to say, 'You didn't represent me properly.' Mr. Beaudet did his job and TVA is reproaching him for having done it."

He called the company's statements about racism "completely ridiculous." He said the union never really alleged racism, and he accused the network of trying to muddy the issue and distract from what was essentially a labour-relations question.