A page in history is turning at Radio-Canada with the departure, on Saturday, of Joël Le Bigot, the established king of the weekend airwaves for nearly 25 years. The excitement was palpable in the ICI Première studios, where many of his former collaborators had gathered to pay tribute to the “last of the intractable”. And yet, the rebellious entertainer has always steered clear of the media world, which he unashamedly criticizes.
After more than 50 years of career, Joël Le Bigot has come to the conclusion that the information environment has not evolved for the better. He hates social media, he avoids continuous news channels, but most of all he abhors political correctness. The 76-year-old presenter fears that his successors will never be able to aspire to the freedom of tone that has been his leitmotiv throughout his life. Who would manage to stand up to the bosses without enjoying the popularity rating that Joël Le Bigot had?
“I never stopped talking, even though I know it upset management. Annoying management was actually a pleasure for me. But now, the animators are under surveillance”, she laments with the brio that we know her from.
Joël Le Bigot does not forgive Radio-Canada, which he accuses of having moved away from its international mandate in recent decades. On a day-to-day basis, too much importance is given to news that, in his opinion, is not. The news, the semantic debates and other Byzantine controversies that go on for days, Joël Le Bigot has never given importance to them.
This staunch nationalist, who makes no secret of having voted Yes in 1980 and 1995, also questions the public broadcaster’s pan-Canadian mandate, which must reflect the reality of Canadians from coast to coast in its news coverage.
I never stopped being opinionated, even if I know it upset management.
“Hearing about a fake tornado for eight minutes is not news. It’s news for a minute, then we should move on to something else, international news, Africa, for example. Chris! There is a fire in Bathurst and they show it to us on television, it is not normal. Talking to us about the opioid crisis in Vancouver is fine. But why bother when someone knocks down a fire hydrant in Alberta? Joël Le Bigot is carried away by this gritty humor that his listeners have come to appreciate.
However, Radio-Canada has never sought to expel him, acknowledges the new retiree. And for good reason, it allowed ICI Première to remain at the top of the Saturday morning ratings, poll after poll, for nearly a quarter of a century.
This sometimes disarming candor, which has made him successful, has nevertheless kept the government corporation’s ombudsman busy in recent years. In 2019, Joël Le Bigot was reprimanded for gloating over the murder in India of a Christian missionary at the hands of the isolated Sentinels tribe, whom he was trying to evangelize. The presenter, who has never hidden his hostility towards religions, had also been reprimanded a few years earlier for making comments suggesting there was a link between pedophilia and Islam.
“There is a good woman who complained about something I said about Islam. Just one ! If twenty people had said that she had gone too far, she would have had no problem apologizing. But with each complaint, we are only talking about one person. It is unfortunate that the ombudsman defends the interests of Radio-Canada instead of those of the public, ”insists the man who claims to have taken malicious pleasure during his career in“ always being online ”in his statement.
This style, very unique to the Radio-Canada antenna, earned him his share of detractors during his career. He has been accused of being old-fashioned, even reactionary. Lacking objectivity. Being disrespectful, especially to the women on his team.
Joël Le Bigot has always been completely indifferent to these reproaches. But among his collaborators, we know that, for some people, it was fashionable to hate the host of saturday and nothing more.
“Even though he makes fun of us, even though he can be tough and cut things off, he was always very respectful. For me he is the patriarch of radio. When I started on his show, he was scared, because he had heard all kinds of things. But it turns out that underneath the grumpy look on his face, he is someone who listens. That he leads his collaborators to be better”, corrects the cultural columnist Ariane Cipriani, much admired.
Sentiment shared by Francine Grimaldi, faithful collaborator until her retirement in 2019.
“He had the generosity to put others in the spotlight. She never bragged, even though she has a phenomenal culture. There are not many animators with such a level of knowledge anymore”, emphasizes the former columnist, who believes that Joël Le Bigot is simply irreplaceable.