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 ..no 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.
“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 ..it 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.)