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MONTREAL - Montreal must be the bad-news capital of Canada. That’s the impression I got from an email I received last Saturday from Jean-François Dumas, the president of a Montreal-based media-monitoring service, Influence Communication. Dumas was responding to my column in Saturday’s Gazette. In the column, I speculated that negative publicity outside Quebec about the Pastagate affair may be a factor in what so far has been a disappointing summer tourist season in Montreal. “Pastagate” refers to the furor last February over the unsuccessful attempt by Quebec’s French-language-protection agency to force a Montreal restaurant to add French translations to the Italian names of dishes on its menu. As I mentioned in my column, Dumas’s firm reported less than a week after the story broke that Pastagate had become the subject of 350 articles in 14 countries as far away as Australia, and many more articles in Canada. Dumas’s firm started monitoring media coverage in 2000, And he said in his email that for the first several years, it found that Quebec received “softball” (bonbon) coverage in the international media. Most of it, 58 per cent, was about either Quebec’s culture or its tourist attractions. “The foreign press essentially praised Quebec for its European character, its dining, its hospitality and its cultural richness and dynamism. “The foreign press essentially praised Quebec for its European character, its dining, its hospitality and its cultural richness and dynamism. “It was even said often that Montreal was an ‘incubator for cultural products and ideas.’ “The only criticism addressed to Quebec concerned its exploitation and exportation of asbestos to developing countries.” That began to change early last year, during the disruptive and sometimes violent student protests against the former Liberal government’s university-fee increases. In the last 18 months, said Dumas, a series of events had “considerably changed” Quebec’s image in the foreign media. “In fact, one might even say that Quebec has become one big news story” in itself — and a mostly negative one. Dumas listed a “Top 15” of the Quebec stories that received the most coverage in international media since the beginning of 2012 (see accompanying list). Except for the papal candidacy of Quebec City Cardinal Marc Ouellet, most of the stories were negative. (Pastagate ranked No. 11). And most of them were linked to Montreal. If that doesn’t make Montreal the bad-news capital of Canada, I don’t know what is. I can’t think of another Canadian city that has produced nearly as many big, negative news stories in the same period. The mayor of Toronto is alleged to have smoked crack? Pfft. The actual arrest of Montreal’s mayor only made it to No. 8 on Dumas’s list. A police raid at Montreal city hall just cracked the list at No. 15. In a demonstration of the media version of Gresham’s law in economics, the bad coverage of Montreal has driven out the good. Dumas noted that in the past 18 months, Quebec’s cultural and tourist attractions have lost 65 per cent of their share of international media coverage. And, he concluded, the damage to the images of Quebec in general and Montreal in particular is not good for their economies. “If one accepts that a city, a province or a country is a bit like a brand in foreign media, and that the interest of others helps generate tourism, immigration and investments, I believe that we should seriously question ourselves about the state of our collective assets.” Montreal hoteliers might agree. The latest figures obtained from the Hotel Association of Greater Montreal show that last month, compared with July 2011, the number of nightly room occupations in its 77 member hotels in the metropolitan region was down by 40,000. Top 15 Quebec news stories by volume of international media coverage since January 2012 (Source: Influence Communication) 1. Lac-Mégantic disaster 2. Magnotta case 3. Student protests 4. Helicopter jailbreak 5. Charbonneau inquiry and corruption 6. Quebec papal candidate 7. Metropolis shooting 8. Arrest of Montreal mayor Applebaum 9. Gatineau shooting 10. Explosion at fireworks factory 11. Pastagate 12. Turban in soccer 13. Resignation of Montreal mayor Tremblay 14. Shafia “honour” killing trial 15. Police raid at Montreal city hall [email protected] Twitter: MacphersonGaz © Copyright © The Montreal Gazette