Thousands of Canadians back CBC staff revolt against ‘insidious’ paid ads disguised as news

2020.12.18 | CWA Canada Local 30213 - Canadian Media Guild

Almost 17,000 Canadians have joined forces with more than 600 current and former employees and a public broadcasting advocate to pressure CBC/Radio-Canada into abandoning Tandem, its new branded-content advertising program.

The rebellion in the ranks is growing despite an announcement by management that it would put limits on branded content, including restricting it to digital platforms.

Several groups have formed and are directing their protests at corporate executives, the board of directors, the federal broadcast regulator and/or Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault.

CWA Canada’s largest Local, the Canadian Media Guild, which represents thousands of CBC workers, said in an Oct. 30 letter to Guilbeault the “paid advertisements masquerading as real news … look and sound remarkably like the journalism our members deliver to Canadians every day.”

“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 largest protest group, with more than 500 members, last week launched the StopPaidContentOnCBC.ca website — “a determined effort by CBC journalists past and present to protect the integrity of CBC journalism from ads disguised as news” — and Facebook page.

Jeffrey Dvorkin, a former managing editor and chief journalist at CBC Radio, and now Senior Fellow at Massey College, is spokesperson for the group, which includes many high-profile on-air journalists. All of them have signed an “open letter to Canadians” that is published on the site, which also features videos of “respected journalists” speaking out.

The letter says the “CBC is using its resources to help advertisers trick Canadians. They call what they produce ‘paid content’. And it’s insidious. It looks and sounds like the news stories and podcasts we produce. It’s found on the same websites and apps. But it’s not news, or even information. It is advertising that pretends to be news. And we believe strongly it must stop.”

In launching Tandem in September, CBC said it would “leverage the credibility of the network.”

Staff say “that reputation was built by people like us — generations of journalists who earned your trust by informing you faithfully and truthfully every day. ‘Paid content’ does not leverage that reputation, it makes a mockery of it. In an era of ‘fake news’ where misinformation is already rife, it undermines trust. That is dangerous.”

Dvorkin said that about 300 people have already heeded the call to sign the “petition,” which is actually a letter to CEO Catherine Tait, Executive Vice-President Barbara Williams, the CBC’s board of directors, and the Heritage minister.

He said those letters are on top of the 16,500 people who have already signed an online petition in English and French run by Friends of Canadian Broadcasting.

The National Post reported that another open letter demanding a stop to Tandem has received support from more than 100 Radio-Canada staff, including hosts of primetime TV and radio news shows. It is directed to Michel Bissonnette, the executive vice-president of French services.

Another group of 35 prominent former employees, including Adrienne Clarkson, has sent a letter to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, asking it to investigate Tandem as part of its January hearings into the CBC’s licence renewal.

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