A page is turning in Radio-Canada’s history with Saturday’s departure of Joël Le Bigot, the established weekend king of airwaves for almost 25 years. The emotions were palpable in the ICI Première studios, where many of its former collaborators had gathered to pay tribute to the “last of the stubborn”. And yet the rebellious animator has always kept aloof from the media world, which he criticizes without shame.
After more than 50 years of work, Joël Le Bigot has come to the conclusion that the information environment has not changed for the better. He hates social networks, avoids continuous news channels, but above all abhors political correctness. The 76-year-old host fears his successors will never be able to aspire to the freedom of tone that has been his guiding principle throughout his life. Who would manage to hold their own against the bosses without enjoying Joël Le Bigot’s popularity rating?
“I have never stopped myself from speaking out, although I know it bothered management. In fact, it was my pleasure to bother the management. But now the animators are being watched,” he complains with the verve that we know him.
Joël Le Bigot does not spare Radio-Canada, which he accuses of having strayed from its international mandate in recent decades. News that he doesn’t think is news is given too much importance on a daily basis. Various facts, semantic debates and other Byzantine controversies that last for days: Joël Le Bigot never attached importance to them.
This staunch nationalist, who makes no bones about having voted yes in 1980 and 1995, also questions the public broadcaster’s pan-Canadian mandate, which requires its reporting to reflect the reality of Canadians from coast to coast.
“Hearing about a fake tornado for eight minutes is nothing new. It’s news for a minute, then we should move on to something else, international news, like Africa. Cross! There is a fire in Bathurst and it is being shown to us on TV, it is not normal. It’s okay to talk to us about the opioid crisis in Vancouver. But why upset us when someone knocks over a fire hydrant in Alberta? Joël Le Bigot gets carried away by this pithy humor that his listeners have come to appreciate.
However, Radio-Canada never tried to kick him out, the new retiree acknowledges. And for good reason, poll after poll, ICI Première has held the number one spot in Saturday morning’s ratings for nearly a quarter of a century.
This sometimes disarming openness, which has made him successful, has nevertheless kept the ombudsman of the Federal Institute on his toes in recent years. In 2019, Joël Le Bigot was rebuked for gloating over the murder of a Christian missionary in India by the isolated tribe of Sentinels he was trying to evangelize. The host, who has never hidden his hatred of religion, had also been reprimanded a few years earlier for making statements suggesting a link between pedophilia and Islam.
“There is a good woman who complained about something I said about Islam. only one ! If 20 people had said I went too far, I would have apologized without a problem. But with each complaint, we’re only talking about one person. It is unfortunate that the Ombudsman defends the interests of Radio-Canada rather than the public,” stresses the man, who claims to have taken a malicious pleasure in his career “always being on the line,” in his Remarks.
This style, very unique to Radio-Canada’s antenna, earned him his fair share of critics throughout his career. He has been accused of being outdated, even reactionary. Lack of objectivity. Being disrespectful, especially towards the women on his team.
Joël Le Bigot was always completely indifferent to these allegations. But among his staff, we know that hating the host was fashionable for some people Saturday and nothing else.
“Even though he teases us, even though he can be tough and cut things off, he’s always been very respectful. For me he is the patriarch of radio. When I first started his show I was scared because I had heard all sorts of things. But it turns out that underneath his scowl, he’s someone who listens. Who leads their employees to become better,” corrects culture columnist Ariane Cipriani with great admiration.
Shared mood of Francine Grimaldi, loyal collaborator until her retirement in 2019.
“He had the generosity to put others in the spotlight. He has never shown off despite having a phenomenal culture. There aren’t many animators left with that level of knowledge,” points out the former columnist, who believes Joël Le Bigot is simply irreplaceable.