Stations Must Clearly Identify Sponsored Programming, Says Canadian Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, June 4, 2008 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning Sunday Showcase with Murray Segal broadcast on CHWO-AM (AM 740, Oakville, Ontario).  The CBSC’s Ontario Regional Panel found that the station violated the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Code of Ethics for failing to inform listeners that a talk show had been sponsored by the company whose owner was as a guest on the program.

Sunday Showcase is a music and talk program that includes discussions with guests, one of whom, a recurring guest, was the owner of a local home renovation company.  The host asked questions of the company owner about different types of renovation projects and occasionally suggested during the broadcast that listeners could “give the good folks at [the company] a call” because “they do excellent work.”  Segal also provided the company’s telephone number and website numerous times.

A listener complained to the CBSC that CHWO did not reveal that the company actually paid the station for the opportunity to appear on the program.  She also argued that the host’s endorsement of the company was inappropriate.  The station admitted that the segment was paid for and effectively constituted an advertisement, but did not announce this fact because “to do so would be stating the obvious”.

The Ontario Panel examined the complaint under Clauses 6 and 14 of the CAB Code of Ethics, which require the proper presentation of comment and the clear separation of advertisements from news or information programs.  The Panel disagreed with the station’s assertion and determined that it should have informed listeners that the program was sponsored.  The Panel made the following comments:

[A]ssuming that the program was indeed a commercial, the question is whether an ordinary radio listener would have known that.  […] [I]t is the reaction of the ordinary uninformed (in commercial radio practices) listener that counts.  In the view of the Panel, such audience members could be expected to recognize 15- or 30-second commercial spots, but they would not know, without advice, that the challenged Sunday Showcase was nothing more or less than paid flattery.  The failure to inform them is misleading and unfair.

[…]

In the matter at hand, in addition to the non-disclosure of the paid sponsorship of the program, the host insinuated himself to an undue extent in the “selling” of the product, namely, the services of the builder.

The Panel also noted that CHWO should have been aware that it was required to “advise its audience of that sponsorship clearly, transparently and unequivocally” because the CBSC had clearly established that principle in a previous decision released in 2006.

Canada’s private broadcasters have themselves created industry standards in the form of Codes on ethics, equitable portrayal, television violence and journalistic independence by which they expect the members of their profession will abide.  In 1990, they also created the CBSC, which is the self-regulatory body with the responsibility of administering those professional broadcast Codes, as well as the Code dealing with journalistic ethics created by the RTNDA – Association of Electronic Journalists in 1970.  More than 630 radio stations, satellite radio services, television stations and specialty services from across Canada are members of the Council.

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All CBSC decisions, Codes, links to members' and other web sites, and related information are available on the CBSC's website at www.cbsc.ca. For more information, please contact the CBSC National Chair, Mme Andrée Noël CBSC Executive Director, John MacNab