Outcry grows over CBC’s branded content that mimics news

2020.11.25 | CWA Canada Local 30213 - Canadian Media Guild

Graphic: Friends of Canadian Broadcasting

CBC/Radio-Canada is facing a rising tide of opposition to its new branded-content initiative that its main union describes as “paid advertisements masquerading as real news.”

CWA Canada’s largest Local, the Canadian Media Guild (CMG), has added its voice of protest to that of hundreds of former and current employees it represents at CBC, as well as Friends of Canadian Broadcasting.

Friends has been circulating a petition against the advertising service, CBC Tamdem, in advance of a Nov. 25-26 meeting of the corporation’s board of directors. It calls on them to put an end to the “extremely insidious” branded content that “casts suspicion over the trust-worthiness of everything else the CBC produces. It’s up to you to stand up for your audience and for all Canadians, to ensure we have access to news and information we can trust.”

In a letter to Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault, the CMG said the public broadcaster is creating and selling corporate-sponsored podcasts and news-like programming or articles — which could appear in English or French on most of its platforms, as well as TV and CBC News Network — “that look and sound remarkably like the journalism our members deliver to Canadians every day under the CBC brand.”

“At a time when it’s critical for the public to rely on trusted news sources, sponsored content blurs the lines between real, independent journalism and ‘fake news’.”

The CMG told the minister that, if the corporation “insists on maintaining such a controversial commercial service, it rightly belongs on an independent ‘platform’ that does not carry the CBC logo, and that will not interfere with or mimic the work of CBC/Radio-Canada journalists.”

Shortly after the CBC announced in a September news release the launch of Tandem, which would “leverage the credibility of our network,” a group of more than 400 current and former news staff went public with their concerns.

High-profile former staff, including Adrienne Clarkson, Gillian Findlay, Linden MacIntyre and Peter Mansbridge, are among those who have complained to CBC management and the board of directors and sought internal “town halls” to allow employees to air their concerns.

MacIntyre, the former host of The Fifth Estate, told The Globe and Mail in an interview that standard advertising on CBC was accepted by the public long ago. But branded content, he said, is tantamount to “deception. Why do special corporate interests, institutional interests need to disguise content as something that is objective and something that is disinterested from their mercenary point of view? Why do they have to do that, other than to create an impression that is untrue, which is that they don’t have a particular stake in how people respond to this?”

Another group, comprising more than 70 former employees, has sent a letter to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), asking it to investigate Tandem, according to a report by The Canadian Press.

“The CBC made no mention of branded content in its fall 2019 licence renewal application to the CRTC. There is no reference in the CRTC’s public information about the CBC, nor is there any disclosure in the CBC’s annual reports,” said the group’s statement.

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