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RUSSELL WANGERSKY: Fake news, tricked out like the truth

Top "stories" on the Canadian Energy Centre' website. —
A section of the Canadian Energy Centre’s website. — Screenshot

Follow the money.

It’s an old saying, but a good one.

Earlier this week, the president of the non-political Canadian Culinary Federation, Donald Gyurkovits, was contacted by someone who wanted an interview, and Gyurkovits gave one.

Problem was, the interviewer was being employed by the government of Alberta’s Canadian Energy Centre, the $30-milllion per year war room created by the government of Premier Jason Kenney to promote the oil and gas industry, a facet of the interview that was not made clear.

Gyurkovits’ interview was the core of a piece on the Canadian Energy Centre’s website, touting the use of natural gas for cooking.

Gyurkovits said later that he would not have spoken to the interviewer if he’d known of the political connection. In other cases, writers working for the political agency have identified themselves as “reporters,” suggesting a sort of apolitical stance that they clearly don’t have.

Meanwhile, in Ontario, Premier Doug Ford’s government has created its own “news” agency, Ontario News Now, which creates online “news” content at the government’s direction, paid for with taxpayers’ money.

Asked about employees describing themselves as “reporters,” a spokesman for the Canadian Energy Centre said he didn’t see an issue with the term, but said that the interviewers should clearly explain who they are working for.

The problem is, right now, people have shown a marked disinterest for paying for the products they consume, at least, when it comes to news.

Why continue to masquerade as what they’re not?

Well, because despite much-ballyhooed claims about “fake news” and newsroom hidden agendas, people do still value the impartiality of news sources that aren’t 100 per cent funded by the political arm of a government.

Perhaps that’s because the general public recognizes that a non-arm’s-length, government funded agency is likely to speak with its paymaster’s voice. (That is one of the problems of having governments step in with programs to help the struggling news industry, but that’s something I’ve made clear in other columns.)

The problem is, right now, people have shown a marked disinterest for paying for the products they consume, at least, when it comes to news.

It’s a remarkable disconnect: people want independent, trustworthy, fact-based news and commentary, but fail to understand that producing a quality product requires that someone actually pays for the hard work involved with creating it. There seems to be a belief that good work can simply appear out of nothing.

In the baldest sense of the words, you eventually get what you pay for — and those who insist on paying nothing for the news and current affairs they read or otherwise consume will eventually get nothing.

Oh, I’m sorry — I’m probably wrong there.

It’s pretty clear you will, in fact, continue to get something.

It might look like news, call itself news and pretend to be news.

But the biggest joke — on consumers, anyway — is not that it won’t be anything close to impartial.

No, it’s that it will be anything but free.

Make no mistake — you’ll still be paying someone to produce what appears to be news. As in Alberta and Ontario, it will simply be added to your tax bill. In actual fact, you’ll probably be paying more than you would pay for independent journalism, because anyone who’s followed pay scales knows that the government communications staff whose job it is to deal with bona-fide journalists usually get paid considerably more than the journalists do.

The only difference is that the people who make what can truly be described as “fake news” will be answering to a political master with their own political ends.

But they’ll call themselves reporters and claim to work for news agencies.

Maybe that’s because they know that they have to lie to be believed.

Russell Wangersky’s column appears in SaltWire publications across Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at russell.wangersky@thetelegram.com — Twitter: @wangersky


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