Sponsorship of Programming Must be Disclosed, Says Canadian Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, June 21, 2023 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning a segment of public affairs program Salut Bonjour broadcast on TVA (CFTM-DT, Montreal). The segment was about TurboTax software and was sponsored by that company. The CBSC concluded this sponsorship should have been clearly disclosed to the audience.

Salut Bonjour is a morning public affairs program which features news and other lifestyle segments. One recurring segment is called “C’est bon à savoir” (“Good to Know”). On February 20, 2023, the topic of that segment was TurboTax. TurboTax was presented as “the #1 tax software in Canada for more than 25 years” and the host explained that there were different versions available for people with different tax situations, including a feature where a live tax expert could help a user do their tax return and review it before filing.

A viewer complained that this segment was an advertisement for TurboTax, but was misleadingly presented as a neutral tax advice segment. TVA characterized the segment as [translation] “promotional content made by and for our partners” and argued that the segment was distinct from the newscast segments of the program, hosted by a separate contributor from the newsreader and staged on a set with different decor from the newscasts. TVA also pointed out that the webpage for the segment contains an explicit mention of the fact that it is promotional content.

The CBSC’s French-Language Panel examined the complaint under provisions of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Code of Ethics and Radio Television Digital News Association of Canada’s (RTDNA) Code of Journalistic Ethics which require news and public affairs to be kept distinct from advertising. The CBSC Panel found breaches of some of those code provisions, stating that broadcasters are allowed to air sponsored content, but they have to disclose it in a clear, transparent and unequivocal manner. While TVA did this on its website, it should also have done it during the on-air broadcast.

The CBSC was created in 1990 by Canada’s private broadcasters to administer the codes of standards that they established for their industry. The CBSC currently administers 5 codes which deal with ethics, equitable portrayal, violence, news and journalistic independence. Around 800 radio stations, satellite radio services, conventional and discretionary television services across Canada participate in the Council.

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All CBSC decisions, codes, and related information are available on the CBSC’s website. For more information, please visit www.cbsc.ca.