The Conservative government has been using a publicity agency to create and distribute government-approved news items to community newspapers, television and radio stations.
The federal government has a standing offer — worth up to $1.25 million annually — with News Canada Ltd., which provides content free and without copyright to editors through its website.
The articles must be credited to News Canada, but there is usually nothing in the so-called news articles or television and radio scripts that would explicitly let readers or viewers know it is sponsored content.
The Star’s Alex Boutilier reported earlier this week the Conservative government has signed or amended nearly $500 million in advertising contracts over the past five years, but the federal public works department said in an emailed response to questions that this will not come from the advertising budget.
“These are editorial services, not paid advertising,” said the email from media relations at Public Works, where no one was available for an interview Friday.
The federal government says it is about educating Canadians.
New democrat MP Charlie Angus (Timmins—James Bay), ethics critic for his party, sees it differently.
“We have a news service offering cash-strapped newspapers free content and it doesn’t tell the reader that this is from the Conservative propaganda machine,” Angus said in a telephone interview Friday.
“At least if it’s a press release, we know where it comes from, but there is a subversion of public trust when they go this route.”