Conservative radio hosts under fire after Quebec mosque attack

So-called 'trash radio' stations made 'adversarial discourse against minorities in general and Muslims in particular' increasingly acceptable, says Stephane Leman-Langlois, a criminologist at Laval University, where the alleged shooter studied

The Quebec mosque where a gunman killed six worshippers and wounded eight others. Mathieu Belanger / Reuters
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QUEBEC CITY // Quebec’s popular conservative talk radio hosts have come under fire for allegedly spreading intolerance and hate after the shootings at the Québec City mosque..

Critics say the talk shows fuel a divisive climate that allows extreme ideologies to take root and flourish – a claim that has taken on heightened relevance after a gunman with far-right sympathies opened fire on Muslim worshippers, killing six and wounding eight more.

While not pointing a finger at any particular person or organisation, the premier of Quebec, Philippe Couillard, emphasised that “words do matter”.

Some say that radio stations like local FM93 and Radio X, which have the second and third-highest number of listeners in the region with a combined 30 per cent market share, simply reflect their audience’s views. But others say the shows stoke dangerous beliefs.

“These are right-wing talk radio stations with little substance but a lot of opinions,” said Stephane Leman-Langlois, a criminologist at Laval University, where the alleged shooter studied.

These so-called “trash radio” stations made “adversarial discourse against minorities in general and Muslims in particular” increasingly acceptable, he added, by touting “white supremacy, white victimology and repeating over and over that Quebec is in grave danger”.

Though it is not known whether the suspect in the mosque attack listened to these radio stations, his online activities suggest he supports political leaders including Republican US President Donald Trump and French far-right politician Marine Le Pen.

Muslims in the Canadian province lay the blame for rising Islamophobia squarely at the foot of local right-wing talk radio.

Some stations “have made it their mission to increase distrust and hate of Muslims,” said Mohamed Yangui, head of the Islamic cultural centre and mosque that was attacked.

“Their comments are often over the top and blundering,” said Leman-Langlois, recalling a one-hour episode last autumn in which Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau was said to be an agent of the Muslim Brotherhood determined to Islamise Canada. “There is really an examination of conscience to do on the part of these radio stations.”

His words echo media research group Project J, which has called on the stations to take a hard look at themselves and reflect on how they cover communities – “Muslims in particular.”

The organisation has highlighted the underrepresentation of visible minorities in Quebec media, for example, compared to the rest of Canada.

Calls have also multiplied to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications (CRTC) agency, which regulates the industry, to take a hard line. Some show hosts in the past have been sued for defamation but the stations Since Since the mosque shooting, these radio stations have said they deplore violence but a Radio X broadcast on Tuesday quickly degenerated, with the host accusing leftists of “rejoicing” over the opportunity to use the slam conservatives’ views.

But for Mohamed Ali Saidane, who lost a friend to the shooting, some of the radio hosts “have become spokespeople for racism”.

“The general climate remains negative,” he said.

In Ottawa, the prime minister’s communications director blasted US television network Fox News for a “false” tweet claiming a Moroccan was the suspect in the Quebec mosque mass shooting.

Kate Purchase demanded that Fox News retract or fix the Twitter message, noting that police had released that suspect after ascertaining he was not involved. “These tweets by Fox News dishonour the memory of the six victims and their families by spreading misinformation, playing identity politics, and perpetuating fear and division within our communities,” she wrote in a letter to the network. Fox News later deleted the tweet, saying “we regret the error.”

* Agence France-Presse