Sierra Club files complaint over unlabelled Canwest oilsands ad features
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.