By Esther Enkin for the CBC
The complainant, Mark Wright, thought CBC in New Brunswick was providing free advertising to one of its regular columnists. The author of World of Work broadcast on radio, and had a column online. The online column linked directly to his company. There’s nothing wrong with using experts, but the concern about appearing to endorse one person or company is well founded.
You are concerned about an ongoing feature, entitled “World of Work,” which is broadcast weekly on the CBC Moncton morning show, and published as a column on the CBC New Brunswick website. You believe that the feature is paid advertising for Peter Battah, who is the head of a human resources consultancy. You pointed to the fact that the CBC New Brunswick page provides a link to Mr. Battah’s company page. You also pointed out that the article published on the CBC page is the same as the one that appears on his personal blog page.
You had several issues with this arrangement. You said that this was free advertising that is being subsidized by the taxpayers, as CBC is a public corporation. You pointed out that not only was it unpaid advertising, but that it “provides the inevitable effect of endorsing the commercial services provided by the company.” You thought this was unfair to any of Mr. Battah’s competitors and that they should be provided equal time.
You were also concerned that CBC employees might benefit from this arrangement. You wanted to know “what steps and procedures” were in place “to ensure that this arrangement does not involve payment of any kind (whether monetary or otherwise) to CBC employees.” You asked if this arrangement violated the “Charter of the CBC”:
Is it within the Charter of the CBC to allow the owners of private companies to write articles in their field of expertise on a regular basis? For example, would it be acceptable for the owner of a local Automotive Mechanic Workshop to write a column on car problems (remembering that it would be made clear that his or her “expertise” in the field is inextricably related to that private business)? Would a local lawyer be able to write a column on legal issues in her or his specific field of expertise – again making clear in the column WHO that lawyer is and WHICH private law firm they work for? In the event that you take the view that it is in fact acceptable to have such experts talk about their field on a regular basis then why allow them to essentially advertise who they work for or the company they own?
Finally, you also questioned the “newsworthiness” of the articles online or on the morning radio program.
Darrow MacIntyre, the Executive Producer of News for New Brunswick, replied to your concerns. He told you that CBC does engage freelance contributors, and that doing so was a common practice in “reputable media organizations.” He explained that “doing so provides the public with additional, informed perspectives from outside the media organization.” He cited some other examples, such as a car maintenance expert who regularly contributes to Maritime Noon, financial experts who provide advice about money management, and gardening centre owners who provide lawn and plant care advice.