Vancouver Sun: When Propaganda Imitates News

Friday the 13th was indeed a really unlucky day for the Vancouver Sun … in terms of its vigilance aimed at protecting its journalistic integrity.  On Black Friday, the paper experienced a major failure that I believe may have really damaged its public image and claims of impartiality.

The paper ran a Special Section entitled Doing Business in China … the front page of which stated “Vancouver Sun Writers look at trade policy and practice in the world’s most dynamic market”.

A great idea and a timely topic. And a few interesting articles too … on the challenges of doing business in China, the art of making the deal, and advice for those trying to enter the massive market.

BUT there were also FOUR pages boldly proclaiming IN FOCUS and featuring no less than SIX photos of Premier Gordon Campbell (as if the two others on other pages were not enough!) along with riveting articles entitled “A message from Premier Gordon Campbell”,  “A message from Minister Colin Hansen”, and “British Columbia and Canada in the Asia Pacific Region: building a shared and prosperous future”.

Was this news or Liberal government propaganda?, I wondered.

But there it was, atop two beaming pictures of the  Premier, a statement asserting “This feature has been provided by The Vancouver Sun”. 

 Apparently, propaganda was now news “feature” material  … bought and paid for.

Shame, I thought! Government patsies longer a real newspaper, I dismayed! So I wrote Valerie Casselton, the Sun’s Executive Editor, asking if the government had funded any part of the Special Section, and if so, should the Sun not have said so???? And if no money had changed hands, I questionned the paper’s impartiality.

But I was on to something!

Casselton referred my enquiry to to Patricia Graham, Sun Editor in Chief, and sure enough, FOUR PAGES OF THE SECTION WERE GOVERNMENT ADVERTISING, but the paper had mistakenly NOT said so.

Her explanation:

“There was, however, an insert in the section – the centre four pages. These are the ones that said on the front and back “This feature has been provided by The Vancouver Sun”.
The feature is advertising and should not have been labelled that way; it was a mistake. We have a policy that advertising features should be labelled so that they do not appear to be editorial; unfortunately human error in this case meant the policy was not followed.”

Worse than that was right on top of the first ADVERTISING page that The Sun told its readers this was a “feature” provided by the Sun.

But the damage was done. How many Sun readers, I wonder, came away disappointed or disenchanted with The Sun, believing it was running government propaganda a “feature” material.

No wonder newspapers and the media in general are in trouble with many readers, listeners and viewers. By dulling the separation between news and avertising with “advertorials” the media hurt their own credibility.

(To help clear up exactly what happened, I will post below the full Sun response to my queries about what happened on Friday the 13th.)

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4 Responses to Vancouver Sun: When Propaganda Imitates News

  1. Harold says:

    My 13th birthday coincided with the start of the “Battle of Britain” in 1940.
    13 is an impressionable age & I was impresssed by the valient efforts of the RAF fighter pilots in the defense off the realm.
    With the threat of a Nazi invasion I, a member of the Air Training Corp, was being prepared to act as a messenger boy for the defense forces.
    Then, since the fall of France, we waited for 19 months before the Japanese helped the Americans to make up their mind which side to come in on.
    The Royal Navy, the Royal Canadian Navy & the Merchant Marine saved us from starvation during those difficult times.
    After I was demobbed from the Royal Navy at 21 I was old enough to vote & could only think of voting Labour.
    That stems from my earliest memory of anything political. When I was 7 in 1934 my Dad looked down at me & said; “Never Trust a Tory”.
    The current local situation adds to that: “Never trust a Tory, especially when he calls himself a Liberal”.
    Being a Tory is not so bad, it is in the realm of democracy.
    What we now have in charge in BC is a Fascist.
    Heil Campbell.

  2. the waif says:


    Where is the outrage over the Vancouver Sun, and Province running the Sixth Foot Found story as if it was fact?

    The next day, instead of admitting their mistake, Canwest chastized the hoaxters.

    These are not newspapers.
    Canwest is not a news organization
    It’s an advertising company.
    Plain and simple.


  3. Pie-in-the-sky says:

    Remember the CanWest story, on the eve of the 2005 provincial election? It bugled the alarm that the BCTF was planning a strike to shut down all schools (imagine, just at exam time!) as soon as the New Democrats were elected to government? [I paraphrase, from memory.]

    And the day AFTER panicky parents had re-elected the Campbell group CanWest dailies cheerily said “Oops! We were misinformed. Sorry.”

    Then it was revealed how carefully that coup was timed so that nobody could refute the story before voting began.

    Harvey, you definitely were “on to something” when you spotted the unpaid political advertisement dressed up to look like a believable Vancouver Sun “feature”. Please make it a specialty. We desperately need to sort this stuff out.

  4. mariner says:

    Well said Harvvey.

    As soooo many other British Columbians have said – the BC Liberal government just cannot be trusted and, it seems, neither can the main stream media..

    Not only do we have a government that just plain cannot be trusted, we have a MSM that is paid to peddle government propagand – as if the PAB is not enough.

    It is truly a sad day, when a province is so assaulted by corruption and ulterior motives, that even the news cannot be trusted as being accurate and true.

    This province is going to see civil dis-obediance and a lot more – much quicker than they realize.

    The people are getting totally fed up with the lies, the corruption and everything else that accompanies such a sick and corrupt government.

    Thanks – I leave my comments as this for fear of getting too angry.

    Good psot on your part Harv.

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