POLITICS

Newspaper buckles on video after Enbridge complains: cartoonist

06/27/2012 04:05 EDT | Updated 08/27/2012 05:12 EDT
VANCOUVER - The Vancouver Province pulled a video satirizing Enbridge's claims about its Northern Gateway pipeline off its website after the company threatened to pull advertising, says the cartoonist who created the animation.

But the paper's editor-in-chief denies the company complained or made any threats.

Dan Murphy, who draws editorial cartoons and creates videos for the newspaper's website, said he learned of the threat from a newsroom supervisor shortly after the video was posted on the Province's site Friday morning.

"Enbridge was going to pull a million dollars worth of advertising if it (didn't) come down," Murphy said.

Murphy's video used an Enbridge (TSX:ENB) ad extolling the virtues and safety of the Northern Gateway proposal, a highly controversial pipeline that would bring oilsands bitumen from Alberta to West Coast ports. The cartoonist took Enbridge's original animated ad and undercut the pastel images of trees and happy families with occasional dollops of oil and interjected voice-overs.

"It's a path to prosperity," begins a gentle female voice over an image of a forest. Then comes a flatulent noise, a big black blob and a puzzled male voice saying, "Is that supposed to happen? I don't think that's supposed to happen."

More follows, in a similar vein.

The video was on the website shortly after 8 a.m. Friday, said Murphy. Around noon, he got a heads up from a colleague in the ad department that his satire was making waves.

One of Postmedia's chief revenue officers "was hitting the ceiling over this, as was Enbridge, and wanted it down," Murphy said.

Shortly after, Murphy was called to a meeting with editor-in-chief Wayne Moriarty and editorial page editor Gordon Clark.

Murphy said he was told that Enbridge was going to pull ads with Postmedia, the Province's owner, if the video wasn't removed. Moriarty was also threatened, said Murphy.

"If it didn't come down, it was Moriarty's head. He was going to lose his job. He was in a terrible position."

Moriarty, however, said he was first alerted there might be a problem Friday afternoon when ad buyers, who buy media space on behalf of clients, suggested there might be a problem with copyright infringement.

"We were using their copyrighted material (and) misappropriating it, they were thinking," he said. "I thought it was very close to the line."

He pointed out the Province has in the past defended its copyright from satirists.

"It seemed a little hypocritical to fight that fight and then on the other hand turn our nose at someone who had expressed a concern about our using their copyright."

He said he was unaware of any threat to pull ads.

"Everything I know, that threat was never there," he said.

Nor, he said, did Enbridge complain directly to the Province. It was Province publisher Kevin Bent who placed a call to Enbridge.

Moriarty stood by what he said was a tough call.

"I understand that from the ad buyer, the creative people who put that together. I can understand (how) they react the way they did. I chose to respect their request.

"This was not an investigative piece. This was a cartoon."

The video was off the Province's website that afternoon. It is now widely available on the Internet.

Enbridge officials didn't respond to requests for comment.

Murphy acknowledged copyright issues were discussed at a second editorial meeting held to discuss the events Friday afternoon. But he said the paper had posted similar satires of videos released by political parties during last year's federal election without problems.

Reworking symbols, slogans and images are at the heart of satire, he said.

"It's a recognized tool of the trade."

Murphy fears a breach in the newspaper's time-honoured wall between advertising and editorial.

"You lose the trust of your readers. Readers are very quick to put two and two together."

Moriarty pointed out the Province has repeatedly published Murphy's cartoons and videos that criticize the energy industry. One of them was scheduled to run Thursday, he said.

"We have done it again and again and again," he said. "The difference in this case is the copyright issue."

Murphy will not be sanctioned for speaking out on the issue, Moriarty said.