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On-air personalities join campaign against CBC's paid content division Tandem

Last Updated Dec 9, 2020 at 11:38 am EDT

CBC personalities Carol Off, Mark Kelley, Nahlah Ayed and Jeannie Lee are among a growing number of staff urging the public broadcaster to drop efforts to sell more branded content.

The marquee hosts and reporters have joined about 500 current and former employees including Peter Mansbridge and Alison Smith who warn that a new marketing division called Tandem will erode the integrity of CBC journalism.

An open letter to the general public warns that producing paid content — advertising that looks like news — is “insidious.” The group of mostly journalists accuse the CBC of using its resources “to help advertisers trick Canadians.” 

Another letter from 35 broadcast executives, producers and reporters asks Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault to order the CRTC to investigate Tandem.  

CBC management have insisted that editorial and advertising content would remain separate, and stressed a critical need to generate revenue amid big financial pressures.  

Last week, managers released guidelines they promised would “further strengthen and clarify the boundaries.”

The guidelines limit branded content to digital platforms and prevent CBC/Radio-Canada journalists or hosts from being involved in the creation or presentation of branded content.

Some of the broadcaster’s biggest names pushed back Wednesday with a social media campaign and website – www.stoppaidcontentoncbc.ca – that explains why they are concerned about Tandem.     

“In an era of ‘fake news,’ where misinformation is already rife, it undermines trust. That is dangerous,” says the letter, available on the website and signed by CBC stars including Gillian Deacon of CBC Radio One’s “Here & Now,” and Kelley’s “Fifth Estate” colleagues Gillian Findlay and Bob McKeown.

“What’s worse, it uses your tax dollars to do it.”  

In a video conference with employees last week, CBC executives stressed there will be clear delineation and labelling between advertising and news.  

In the Q-and-A obtained by The Canadian Press, CBC president and CEO Catherine Tait said revenues “have taken a major hit” and she’s not “comfortable putting hundreds of jobs at risk.”

Last month, more than 70 former CBC employees sent a letter to Canada’s broadcast regulator asking it to investigate Tandem, saying the unit “blurs the lines between advertising and news.”

This week, the group took their campaign to the Canadian public with a press release Wednesday that directly addressed listeners and viewers.

“Canadians have a right to a national public broadcaster that puts their news and information needs ahead of the desires of corporate clients,” Hana Gartner, former host of “The Fifth Estate,” said in the release

By Cassandra Szklarski with files from Victoria Ahearn 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 9, 2020.

The Canadian Press