Constructing the Quebec Referendum: French and English Media Voices


262 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-8020-0909-3
DDC 070.4'49971404




Reviewed by Jeffrey J. Cormier

Jeffrey J. Cormier is a Ph.D. candidate specializing in Canadian society
at McGill University.


Since the 1970s, the media in Canada have come to play an
ever-increasing role in political life. This book examines the ways in
which the French and English media shaped (and thereby constructed, in
the author’s view) the 1980 Quebec referendum. Drawing on Erving
Goffman’s dramaturgical approach and postmodern discourse theory,
Robinson reveals the complex ways in which the referendum was presented
to Montreal’s anglophone, francophone, and allophone audiences. Her
focus is not on the actual content of the referendum debate, but rather
on the style in which it was presented.

Her review of television newscasts, newspaper articles, and other
documentation led Robinson to conclude that there were both similarities
and differences in how the referendum was shaped by the French and
English media. Both media tended to present the referendum as an
election fought between two polarized extremes, thereby neglecting more
moderate views. Of the many subtle differences, perhaps the most
noteworthy is the fact that while both French and English media openly
supported the “no” side, the francophone media faced a much more
heterogeneous audience; as result, its news coverage was more open-ended
and ambiguous, and therefore able to accommodate potentially broader
differences in interpretation.

In the end, this jargon-ridden book comes to the rather commonsense
conclusion that the media shape and frame, albeit in subtle ways, the
message audiences receive about news events. Given its relative silence
on the political dimensions of the referendum debate, this book would be
most appropriate for an advanced graduate class in media theory.


Robinson, Gertrude Joch., “Constructing the Quebec Referendum: French and English Media Voices,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 25, 2024,