People walk into the CBC building in Toronto on April 4, 2012. More than 70 former employees of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation want Canada’s broadcast and telecom regulator to investigate the CBC’s new paid-content division, Tandem. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

People walk into the CBC building in Toronto on April 4, 2012. More than 70 former employees of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation want Canada’s broadcast and telecom regulator to investigate the CBC’s new paid-content division, Tandem. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Former CBC workers ask CRTC to investigate public broadcaster’s branded content unit

70 concerned former employees

TORONTO — More than 70 former employees of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation want Canada’s broadcast regulator to investigate the CBC’s new paid-content division, Tandem.

The group says it has sent a letter to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission with concerns that the branded content unit “blurs the lines between advertising and news.”

A statement from the group also says the recently launched multi-platform service “marks a clear departure from the mission of Canada’s public broadcaster.”

The group says it wants the CRTC’s investigation to include “an assessment of the CBC’s past and current use of branded content, which exploits the trust of Canadians in the broadcaster’s news and information services.”

Tandem allows corporate clients to hire the CBC to create branded campaign content, like articles, audio and video.

When asked for comment on the criticism, the head of public affairs at CBC English Services noted that “while Tandem is new, branded content is not.”

“In fact, we have been offering this to our advertisers for many years as have other media outlets around the world,” Chuck Thompson said in an emailed statement Friday.

In announcing Tandem in September, the public broadcaster said it hired new staff and added two content editors. Thompson said the department is “completely separate” from the journalism team.

The group who signed the letter to the CRTC said it is worried about transparency.

“The CBC made no mention of branded content in its fall 2019 licence renewal application to the CRTC. There is no reference in the CRTC’s public information about the CBC, nor is there any disclosure in the CBC’s annual reports,” said the group’s statement.

Kelly Crowe, former medical sciences reporter for the CBC’s flagship news program “The National,” said “the CBC has been selling branded content without a frank discussion about the implications with its own journalists and the Canadian public.”

“When did the CBC’s Board of Directors approve this form of marketing and what are the rules that govern how branded content is labelled to avoid misleading readers, listeners and viewers?” she said.

Past CBC presidents Tony Manera and Robert Rabinovitch are among those who’ve signed the letter to the CRTC speaking out against Tandem.

Other signatories include former CBC-TV hosts Adrienne Clarkson, Peter Mansbridge and Elizabeth Gray, and journalists Mellissa Fung, Linden McIntyre and Brian Stewart.

The group said it also wants the CRTC to put the subject of branded content on the agenda for the January 2021 CBC licence renewal hearings, or to launch a separate inquiry.

“It’s no secret the CBC has been struggling financially for years, but some things should not be for sale,” said Paul Gaffney, a former CBC employee of about 30 years.

“The CBC was established to provide Canadians with high-quality programming, not to sell its credibility for a quick buck.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 13, 2020.

CBC

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Asymptomatic testing will now be available for "priority groups" who are most likely to spread the COVID-19 virus to vulnerable or at-risk populations. File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS
Alberta identifies 1,183 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday

50.5% of all active cases are variants of concern

Whistle Stop Cafe owner Christopher Scott and his sister Melodie pose for a photo at the Mirror restaurant. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Alberta Health Services delivers ‘closure order’ to Mirror restaurant

Alberta Health Services says it has delivered a closure order to a… Continue reading

Flags bearers hold the Canadian flag high during the Flags of Remembrance ceremony in Sylvan Lake in this October file photo. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
New project to pay tribute to Canadians killed in Afghanistan

Flags of Remembrance scheduled for Sept. 11

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Alberta vaccine rollout expanding to front-line health-care workers

More than 240,000 eligible health-care workers can begin booking vaccine appointments starting… Continue reading

File photo
Security and police block the entrance to GraceLife Church as a fence goes up around it near Edmonton on Wednesday April 7, 2021. The Alberta government has closed down and fenced off a church that has been charged with refusing to follow COVID-19 health rules. Alberta Health Services, in a statement, says GraceLife church will remain closed until it shows it will comply with public-health measures meant to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Hundreds gather to support Alberta church shut down for ignoring COVID-19 orders

SPRUCE GROVE, Alta. — Hundreds of people are gathered outside an Alberta… Continue reading

Members of the Canadian Armed Forces march during the Calgary Stampede parade in Calgary, Friday, July 8, 2016. The Canadian Armed Forces is developing contingency plans to keep COVID-19 from affecting its ability to defend the country and continue its missions overseas amid concerns potential adversaries could try to take advantage of the crisis. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Canadian special forces supported major Iraqi military assault on ISIL last month

OTTAWA — Some Canadian soldiers supported a major military offensive last month… Continue reading

A woman pays her repects at a roadblock in Portapique, N.S. on Wednesday, April 22, 2020. The joint public inquiry in response to the April mass shooting in Nova Scotia has announced a mandate that includes a probe of the RCMP response as well as the role of gender-based violence in the tragedy. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
Creating permanent memorial to Nova Scotia mass shooting victims a delicate task

PORTAPIQUE, N.S. — Creating a memorial for those killed in Nova Scotia’s… Continue reading

Conservative leader Erin O'Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, April 6, 2020. Top Tory leaders of past and present will speak with supporters today about what a conservative economic recovery from COVID-19 could look like. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Erin O’Toole says ‘I didn’t hide who I was’ running for Conservative leader

OTTAWA — Erin O’Toole assured Conservative supporters that he never hid who… Continue reading

Calgary Flames' Johnny Gaudreau, second from left, celebrates his goal with teammates, from left to right, Matthew Tkachuk, Noah Hanifin and Rasmus Andersson, of Sweden, during second period NHL hockey action against the Edmonton Oilers, in Calgary, Alta., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Larry MacDougal
Jacob Markstrom earns shutout as Flames blank Oilers 5-0 in Battle of Alberta

CALGARY — It took Sean Monahan breaking out of his goal-scoring slump… Continue reading

B.C. Premier John Horgan responds to questions during a postelection news conference in Vancouver, on Sunday, October 25, 2020. British Columbia's opposition Liberals and Greens acknowledge the COVID-19 pandemic has presented huge challenges for Horgan's government, but they say Monday's throne speech must outline a coherent plan for the province's economic, health, social and environmental future. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Horgan’s NDP to bring in throne speech in B.C., Opposition wants coherent plan

VICTORIA — British Columbia’s opposition parties acknowledge the COVID-19 pandemic has presented… Continue reading

A grizzly bear walks on a treadmill as Dr. Charles Robbins, right, offers treats as rewards at Washington State University's Bear Research, Education, and Conservation Center in this undated handout photo. Grizzly bears seem to favour gently sloping or flat trails like those commonly used by people, which can affect land management practices in wild areas, says an expert who has written a paper on their travel patterns. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Anthony Carnahan *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Grizzly bears prefer walking on gentle slopes at a leisurely pace like humans: study

VANCOUVER — Grizzly bears seem to favour gently sloping or flat trails… Continue reading

FILE - In this July 27, 2020, file photo, nurse Kathe Olmstead prepares a shot that is part of a possible COVID-19 vaccine, developed by the National Institutes of Health and Moderna Inc., in Binghamton, N.Y. Moderna said Monday, Nov. 16, 2020, its COVID-19 shot provides strong protection against the coronavirus that's surging in the U.S. and around the world. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink, File)
The COVID-19 wasteland: searching for clues to the pandemic in the sewers

OTTAWA — When Ottawa Public Health officials are trying to decide whether… Continue reading

Most Read