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Vancouver Sun: When Propaganda Imitates News

June 18th, 2008 · 5 Comments

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.

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 ..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.)

Tags: British Columbia · Media

5 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Harold // Jun 23, 2008 at 7:56 pm

    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.
    Harold

  • 2 the waif // Jun 24, 2008 at 6:27 pm

    Harvey:

    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.

    Despicable.

  • 3 Pie-in-the-sky // Jul 6, 2008 at 1:30 am

    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 hoberfeld // Jul 25, 2008 at 5:48 pm

    From WhistleblowersBC.blogspot.com…

    Friday, June 27, 2008
    Disinformation, Manipulation & the Corporate Media
    I’ve been thinking about the use of the corporate media as a machine of disinformation and in some cases, manipulation of the public. Those of us in the so-called “blogosphere,” particularly those of us who are involved in political blogging often identify ourselves as “citizen journalists.” I wonder if many of us become involved in blogging in part as a reaction to the corporatization and concentration of media. I know that was a major catalyst for me. In Canada, in some ways I think our very democracy is swinging in the breeze up on the hangman’s platform as we are all subjected to non-stop spin and manipulation by the mainstream media (or MSM as they’re called). Things didn’t use to be this way and in part, I blame the CRTC,
    who are supposed to be looking out for the public’s interest. I fail to see that happening when they’ve allowed corporations to concentrate so much media and subsequent rulings seem to be quite encouraging of corporate media in their endeavours.

    Undoubtedly an important book for many of us to check out is “Lies the Media Tell Us” by James Winter, a communications professor from the University of Windsor. I recently read a book review in the CCPA Monitor (yet one more reason that makes the CCPA an outstanding alternative to MSM) by Roy LaBerge in which Winter’s book is dissected and some of his most important points laid bare. I think it’s easy
    for most of us to disconnect from the real business of news… advertising dollars. In his book, Winter relates the quote from a newspaper authority who says the news is “just the filler in between the ads.” The point being, advertisers can and do exert an incredible influence on media content of news. A local couple of examples spring to mind for me that reinforce this point in a real world way.

    1. Consider for a moment the chill of the 2007 Black on Black story (Sean Holman’s Public Eye Online) about the story of Victoria News reporter Brennan Clarke and editor Keith Norbury getting a “talking to” from Black Press Ltd. British Columbia chief operating officer Rick O’Connor about “the impact a potential loss of advertising from the automotive sector” would have on the company. This, after the newspaper published a story about a cross-border car shopper. Those who followed the story, probably most of whom are journalists were deeply concerned about Mr. Clarke’s subsequent firing, which, of course, had nothing to do with writing that story, according to his employer. The most chilling piece to me is when Holman reports publisher, Penny Sakamoto and Island group president Mark Warner “meeting with the reporter, Brennan Clark, regional editor, Keith Norbury, and group editor Brian Lepine to express their concerns and explain the impact a potential loss of advertising from the automotive sector would have on these newspapers.” As further explained by O’Connor, Holman continues:

    “asked whether editorial staff need to consider the impact their stories have on advertising, Mr. O’Connor said, “No. But they need to understand that, if they don’t have balance, then we’re wide open to whatever criticisms come our way – whether it’s related to advertising or not. In this case, the story was related to an advertising sector we’re very strong in. And we took the brunt of their unhappiness” – referring to the fact advertising from the automotive sector dropped the week after Mr. Clarke’s article was published. Brrrrr, it’s getting cold in here.

    2. Thanks to another blogger, Gazetteer, I was recently happy to discover Harvey Oberfeld’s blog, Keeping It Real. Oberfeld, journalist extraordinaire with heaps of experience in print, television and other media, has now made the jump into the abyss of the blogosphere, much to the delight of many of us. Now he is unfettered by a corporate master and can really tell it like it is, with decades of experience about media in Canada. His most excellent story Vancouver Sun: When Propaganda Imitates News is a great introduction to what we can expect. In this story, Oberfeld minces no words, right out of the gate:

    “Friday the 13th was indeed a really unlucky day for the Vancouver Sun … in terms of its vigilance aimed at protecting its journalistic integrity.” He goes on to write about how he caught the Sun in a bit of a piece of shameful media manipulation in cahoots with their buddies, the BC Liberals. Sharp Harvey caught the Sun in their Special Section entitled Doing Business in China. Purported to simply be a series of articles about the obvious, doing business in China, looking at trade policies and practices and how to best capitalize on the largely untapped frontier of China as a business entity and corporate wet dream. As Oberfeld notes:

    “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”… 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.”

    After writing to the Executive Editor Valerie Casselton, the Sun’s big gun, Editor in Chief Patricia Graham confirms to Oberfeld that ooops, “FOUR PAGES OF THE SECTION WERE GOVERNMENT ADVERTISING, but the paper had mistakenly NOT said so.” Her explanation:

    “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.”

    Now, what started me on this thread was not actually media manipulation per se, but the idea of media disinformation as a powerful and often overlooked geopolitical tool. I read A LOT of media, mainstream, alternative and “off the beaten path” stuff. Some of it even I find hard to believe, but I’ll tell you, having been perusing this for some time, I think even some of the most “out there” stuff has kernels of truth in it.

  • 5 mariner // May 15, 2011 at 1:10 pm

    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.