Yesterday, on Dave Rutherford’s show, the Calgary radio host had Jim Patterson, CEO of Telecaster (TVB). Rutherford got right to the point which I first raised in this post: Is Jim Patterson a partisan Liberal? While Patterson admitted that he supports the Liberal Party of Canada, he denied partisanship. I outlined about $4000 in donations that came from “Jim/James D. Patterson” (or someone that shares that exact name that lives in Lakefield Ontario) over a period from 2004-2006. The data compiled included one donation made just 12 days before Canadians went to the polls in the 2006 election. This donation came at the very time that Patterson had the last word on the suitability of election advertising for the home stretch of that election campaign.
Of course, party supporters (large and small) and even high donors to political parties are able to run large private corporations and organizations, but I question how appropriate it is for Mr. Patterson to oversee the advertising process during an election when his group has admitted more than one mistake when it comes to election/advocacy advertising? Telecaster made a mistake in dumping a Canadian Renewable Fuels (CRFA) advertisement and cited an odd request that CRFA require Stephen Harper’s permission because the ad included his image. Of course, issue and advocacy advertising cannot be subject to an easy veto by a political figure who may not like the content of an ad which may hold them to account. How would election advertising work in this climate?
Telecaster admitted its error and eventually let the CRFA advocacy ads run.
However, given Telecaster’s folding to Liberal (and CBC) demands during the last election that a Conservative ad be pulled only to have the private regulatory body flip-flop and re-approve it days later is unacceptable. Free elections cannot be run in this environment.
Should a non-partisan parliamentary body be assigned to provide oversight into potential partisan abuses of Telecaster’s unique position? The free market allows competition of ideas, of product and even of partisanship. However, when an effective monopolistic cabal has editorial control over election and advocacy advertising and its suitability for viewing on every private television network, the market is not free and potential abuses are bound to arise.
Yesterday, I broke the story about how a regulatory body of Canada’s private broadcasters was apparently holding back advertising produced by the Canadian Renewable Fuels Association (CRFA).
The reason for the rejection of CRFA’s advertising? Insufficient size (and duration) of a disclaimer describing who produced the ad spots as TVB categorized the commercials as “Issues and Opinions” due to the buzzworthy nature of renewable fuels.
However, CRFA was given another bizarre reason for the rejection of one of their ads: a two second clip of Stephen Harper stumping during the previous election on a renewable fuels promise needed a “letter of attestation” from the Conservative leader in order for it to appear in the commercial. In other words, CRFA needed Harper’s permission to use Harper’s image even though the use of such an image was from a public event and without media restriction. The clip was used by CRFA to remind Canadians of the promise made by the Conservatives during the previous election on renewable fuels.
CRFA cried foul and rightly argued that such a stipulation for advertising would mean that public figures that debate and write legislation for the public could have an automatic veto over any commercial that they don’t like that featured their image. It should be noted that the issue of ownership of the video content was never in dispute, but rather that the subject of the video (Harper) had not signed off on it’s use.
This got me thinking. Surely there are other examples of commercials produced using the images of elected officials. Election advertising and especially attack ads come to mind.
During the closing days of the previous election, I doubt that Stephen Harper signed off on the blurry, war drum fade-in of his image while Liberals warned of “soldiers with guns. In our cities. We’re not making this up”. Why would he give his permission for such a spot? Further, if TVB is responsible for editorial control over commercials that air on private broadcasters, why on Earth did a spot showing women hunched over cowering while a voice-over falsely accused Harper of being an ideologue that would prevent a woman from her right to choose get approved, while Corn Cob Bob got canned for using an innocuous clip of Stephen Harper (for about two seconds on less than 5% of the screen).
The TVB apparently greenlighted obviously slanderous ad copy while rejecting a happy-go-lucky ad about renewable fuels.
During the last days of the 2006 election, after the Liberals made those war drum spots (we’re not making this up), the Conservatives responded with their own ad with clips of Liberals saying the soldier ad was a “bad idea” etc and a clip of Paul Martin admitting that he approved the ads. The Liberals were quick to condemn the ad in a press release dated January 15th, 2006:
Conservatives Called on to Withdraw TV Spots January 15, 2006
The Conservative Party of Canada has produced new television ads which the Liberal Party of Canada believes are in violation of Canada’s Copyright laws.
The Liberal Party of Canada calls on the Conservative Party to withdraw these ads.
Here’s the ad:
The Liberals lobbied to have the ad pulled because they claimed that the Conservatives violated CBC copyright by using a clip of Paul Martin admitting that he approved the controversial Liberal attack ads. A CP story from January 16th, 2006 gives us some more perspective:
OTTAWA (CP) — A new Conservative TV ad is reminding voters some of Paul Martin’s own candidates disapproved of a controversial Liberal attack which some say implied a Tory government would send tanks into the streets.
The Conservative ad recycles quotes from prominent Liberals including John McCallum, former defence minister, who last week called his party’s ad a mistake.
The 30-second Liberal spot was based on a campaign promise by Conservative Leader Stephen Harper to station 500-member battalions of Canadian Forces personnel in major cities for deployment in emergencies.
The Liberal ad outraged military personnel, who said it implies the Tories were advocating some form of martial law.
It was quickly yanked from the Liberal party’s English website, but a French version aired on television in Quebec.
Martin has said he gave an initial go-ahead, then changed his mind and pulled the ad, which McCallum and Keith Martin, a former Reform party MP and now a Liberal incumbent, later criticized.
The Liberals called on the Conservatives to withdraw the ad in a statement Sunday, saying they believe it violates copyright laws by using CBC footage which they did not have permission to use.
But the Conservatives said all their ads were approved by the party’s legal counsel and Telecaster, the Canadian advertising authority. They added they haven’t received any complaints about the ad from the CBC.
Telecaster (TVB) initially approved the ad for distribution, however, the Liberals complained and the ad was subsequently pulled.
TVB’s greenlight of controversial Liberal ads, the rejection of CRFA’s ads which favourably portray Harper’s environmental policy, along with the pulling of the previously approved Conservative response ad during the past election after Liberals complained raises a few red flags.
As with other elements of our democracy, the approval of private advertising of election ads (and non-election advocacy ads) should be accomplished on a level playing field. Why should one party (whether Conservative or Liberal) have an advantage over the other when trying to get advertising approved for consumption by the public on private networks? Of course, private networks are free to do business with whomever they choose, but would it be a scandal if the umbrella group that is is in charge of editorial content control for these networks controlled for preferred partisanship rather than what they are supposed to control for? (hate speech, indecency, promotion of unlawful acts)
According to the Television Bureau of Canada’s website, the president of the organization is a man named Jim Patterson. In this document we find out that Jim Patterson also goes by the name James and that his middle initial is D.
I decided to search the Elections Canada donations database for donations from people named Jim/James D. Patterson. The following results describe one individual who, according to Elections Canada, lives in Lakefield Ontario with the postal code K0L 2H0.
Lloyd, Diane / Liberal Party of Canada / Peterborough
Jan. 11, 2006
Individuals / Part 2a
Is this the same Jim/James D. Patterson that is the head of the Television Bureau of Canada, the private regulatory body that has editorial control over “Issues and Opinion” advertising?
If so, should a partisan be in charge of approving ads during a time sensitive period (such as an election) where parties depend on television advertising for their most critical rapid responses? Also, would it be appropriate for a partisan to have an advanced look at a competing party’s ads?
In Canada like the United States, television content is subject to review by regulatory bodies for a variety of reasons. In Canada, however, this material is subject to review for undesired political messaging.
Take a look at the following two produced-for-television spots from the Canadian Renewable Fuels Association (CRFA):
On The Hill
It might surprise you to find out that the spots were canned by a regulatory body of private broadcasters called the Television Bureau of Canada (TVB). In the opinion of this self-regulatory body for networks such as CTV and Global, the content of the ads has been classified as “Issue and Opinion” by TVB. In fact, according to a letter obtained by this blogger (reproduced below), “the subject of renewable fuels being a hot topic these days makes it an opinion expressed.” Uh oh.
You might be thinking that opinion has never really been subject to censorship in Canada unless it crosses the line of hateful speech, decency or the promotion of unlawful activity. Of course, the Canadian Renewable Fuels Association is doing nothing of the sort in these spots.
Here is the letter from TVB to the advertising agency for Canadian Renewable Fuels:
This final spot is fine but we will have to treat it as Issue and Opinion. The subject of renewable fuels being a hot topic these days makes it an opinion expressed.
The following must be revised or is needed for final approval:
1- The advertiser must clearly identify themselves by following one of these two examples:
The advertiser must be clearly identified in both the audio and video portions. The audio disclaimer and video super must be preceded by one of the following: “these are the opinions of”, “opinions expressed are those of”, “message brought to you by”, “brought to you by”, “sponsored by” or a similar statement.
The advertiser must be clearly identified in video only. The super must be on screen for at least 6 seconds and must occupy 1/3 of the screen in size. The super must also be preceded by one of the following statements listed above.
2- We also need an attestation letter from the advertiser stating that they have obtained the rights to Premier [sic] Harper’s footage from the station and his consent for his presence in the commercial.
Thank you for the already received indemnity letter.
Please send me the revised final and letter when ready.
Thanks and have a great day!
Daniela Arismendi Television Bureau of Canada/Bureau de la Television du Canada
The “On the Hill” spot was deemed unairable for a couple of reasons. First, Canadians would not be protected, it seems from clandestine opinions to change their economic behaviour (in the advertising industry, this is called “9 to 5, 7 days a week, 365 days a year”). Because renewable fuels is a political “hot topic”, vulnerable Canadians might suffer if the source of the advertising is not “on screen for at least 6 seconds [occupying] 1/3 of the screen in size”. The closing tag “greenfuels.org” on the spot is too covert for the audience even though it is likely meant as a plug for a website on which the CRFA presumably wants the audience to visit.
And what’s this about an “attestation letter” to the rights to use footage of Harper and the claim that the PM’s personal permission to use electoral footage of himself is needed before CRFA can proceed? Did anyone else know that the use of footage of a political candidate is forbidden in this country without the express written permission of that individual?
My pal Kory Teneycke, executive director of the CRFA wrote to the Conservative Party to inquire about such a request and passed on the party’s response to me:
From: Mike Donison [email@example.com] Sent: Saturday, January 20, 2007 5:34 PM
To: Kory Teneycke Subject: Your e-mail request
Dear Mr. Teneycke:
This is in relation to the request from Telecaster which you indicate was sent to you late yesterday which you have forwarded us, in which they ask you to get permission to use a brief clip of a public statement by Stephen Harper made during the last election campaign which took place between November of 2005 and January of 2006.
I understand that the statement in your ad was made by Mr. Harper at a public event with unrestricted media access while he was publicly campaigning in his capacity as Leader of the Conservative Party of Canada. I am not aware how the Party, or Mr. Harper for that matter, has anything to say- permitting, refusing, or otherwise- about the broadcast of a clip from a public event of the Leader. So far as I know, we have never been asked for such a thing before. I am frankly at a loss to understand why or what we are being asked at all.
Michael D. Donison Executive Director-Directeur executif Conservative Party of Canada Parti conservateur du Canada
Armed with confimation of his common sense, Teneycke wrote to TVB and expressed his concern:
January 21, 2007 Jim Patterson President and CEO Television Bureau of Canada (Telecaster Services) 160 Bloor Street East, Suite 1005 Toronto, ON M4W 1B9
Dear Mr. Patterson:
I am writing you to urgently consider the Telecaster policy giving public officials like the Prime Minister of Canada a de facto veto over the use of their public statements and commitments in advertising.
As you are aware, the Canadian Renewable Fuels Association (CRFA) intends to run a television advertising campaign starting today, January 22, 2007. Our campaign consists of two ads, one focuses on the benefits of ethanol and biodiesel and the second reminds Canadians of the commitment made by the Conservative Party to increase renewable fuel content in Canadian gasoline and diesel fuel.
Telecaster has reviewed these ads and has requested changes to the voice-over and video super of our logo at the end of the ad. These changes have been made and revised versions will be sent to you before noon tomorrow.
However, a more troubling requirement was brought forward with respect to our second ad. This commercial contains a brief clip of the Conservative Party Leader, Stephen Harper, speaking at a campaign event outside Chatham, Ontario on December 21, 2005. On Friday afternoon we were informed by Telecaster that we required consent from Stephen Harper for the use of the clip in question. Failure to obtain consent would result in the second ad not being aired.
It is our position that statements made by public officials at public events about public policy topics are not subject to copyright restrictions. As such, it is not for Telecaster to require consent from the public official in being clipped, nor is it for the public official in question to either grant or deny consent for a clip to be used.
For their part, the Conservative Party, in a letter to me yesterday, stated “I understand that the statement in your ad was made by Mr. Harper at a public event with unrestricted media access while he was publicly campaigning in his capacity as Leader of the Conservative Party of Canada. I am not aware how the Party, or Mr. Harper for that matter, has anything to say- permitting, refusing, or otherwise- about the broadcast of a clip from a public event of the Leader.”
We believe there is an important point of principle at stake — the right of Canadians to use public statements made by elected officials, particularly those made during an election campaign, without first seeking their consent. The restriction you are asking for would limit public debate, free speech and political accountability. These are fundamental rights worth standing up for in a democracy. Moreover, they are rights that one would expect an organization funded by Canadian Broadcasters would fight to defend, rather than erode.
On behalf of the Canadian Renewable Fuels Association, I encourage you to revisit and reverse your decision without delay, and allow our second ad containing a clip of Stephen Harper to air without prior authorization of the Prime Minister.
I look forward to your response.
Kory Teneycke Executive Director
What is your opinion on the stifling of speech on the over-regulated medium that is television in this country? I can think of a few instances of the suppression of public debate in this country, but only via government bodies. This marks a particularly egregious example perpetrated by a private organization. Further, this case is yet another example of how YouTube is helping individuals/organizations get around the regulatory filters. And why was the use of Harper’s image in a commercial that actually compliments his environmental plan such a deal-breaker for the Television Bureau of Canada?
You can write Jim Patterson, the President of the Television Bureau of Canada (Telecaster, TVB) at firstname.lastname@example.org