Sierra Club files com­plaint over un­la­belled Canwest oil­sands ad fea­tures

Cape Breton Post - - Business - BY BOBWEBER

Print ver­sions of the sto­ries ap­peared in news sec­tions of the pa­pers and were pre­sented in news­pa­per for­mat, with a dif­fer­ent look than the pa­per’s reg­u­lar pages. The on­line ver­sions, which are still posted, look al­most iden­ti­cal to staff-writ­ten news sto­ries and show up un­der news searches.

Af­ter Ben­nett read one of them, he con­tacted the Ottawa Ci­ti­zen to com­plain that the ar­ti­cle pre­sented only one side of the oil­sands is­sue.

He was told the story was, in fact, an ad.

“I didn’t know what (spe­cial in­for­ma­tion fea­ture) meant,” Ben­nett said. “Ap­par­ently, it means paid ad.”

Canwest com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor Phyl­lise Gelfand said the sto­ries were printed in a dif­fer­ent type­face and laid out in a dif­fer­ent style than the rest of the pa­per. Shell’s “part­ner­ship” was re­ferred to at the top of the page.

“ That’s enough,” she said. “ The av­er­age reader would no­tice the dif­fer­ence.”

Gelfand hadn’t seen the on­line ver­sions and couldn’t com­ment on their much closer re­sem­blance to news sto­ries.

Shell spokesman Phil Vir­coe said the ads were an hon­est at­tempt to get the com­pany’s mes­sage out.

“Our in­tent is to in­form peo­ple, not mis­lead,” he said. “Us­ing the news­pa­per and de­vel­op­ing this part­ner­ship with Canwest is one way to do that.”

He said he be­lieves that most read­ers would be able to dis­cern that the sto­ries were paid con­tent.

The Sierra Club’s com­plaint names the Na­tional Post, the Montreal Gazette, the Ottawa Ci­ti­zen, the Ed­mon­ton Jour­nal, the Cal­gary Her­ald and the Van­cou­ver Sun.

The same pieces ap­peared Thurs­day’s Toronto Star.

In the Star, the en­tire six-part se­ries is de­scribed as a spe­cial in­for­ma­tion fea­ture, but the sto­ries are grouped to­gether in their own sec­tion of the pa­per and printed on dif­fer­ent coloured pa­per.

The Sierra Club is con­sid­er­ing adding the Star to its com­plaint, said spokesman Michael Bernard.

No one at the Star was im­me­di­ately avail­able to com­ment.

The Cana­dian ad­ver­tis­ing code for­bids dis­guis­ing ads. “No ad­ver­tise­ment shall be pre­sented in a for­mat or style which con­ceals its com­mer­cial in­tent,” it reads.

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