Premier Doug Ford‘s office says “Ontario News Now” is here to stay, but Global News has learned through a party source a “reconfiguration” of the social media brand is being considered.
The controversial video content, used to promote government policies and decisions, is delivered on a number of platforms including YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter.
Most recently, the NDP called for Ontario News Now to be shut down after it was revealed a video promoting Pelee Island Winery was produced despite the fact the president of the winery was a PC party donor.
“Instead of acting like a premier for every Ontarian, Doug Ford is more interested in rewarding PC party supporters,” NDP MPP Marit Stiles said at the time.
“The fact that he’s using his taxpayer-funded fake news channel to do it is an insult to Ontarians.”
Ford’s office would not comment on any possible “reconfiguration”, however in a statement Friday, spokesperson Ivana Yelich told Global News, “Ontario News Now is a creative way to communicate the government’s message in the modern, digital world – no different than a video press release or a digital householder.”
Yelich also pointed out that Ontario News Now is produced by PC Caucus Services and that “all recognized parties at the Legislature have a caucus budget which is used to communicate with constituents”.
On Twitter, just over ten thousand people are following the Ontario News Now account. As of Friday, the reach of the brand was much the same on Facebook with 10,055 followers.
Brand strategist and marketing consultant Tony Chapman says the PCs are chasing an online audience with a finite amount of attention.
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“The challenge is, as in the case of Ontario News Now, is that it is often biased, self-congratulatory and boring,” he said. “Their only hope is to reinvent it with less fluff and more of what matters to me.”
Nelson Wiseman, a political science professor at the University of Toronto, said he believes Ontario News Now has actually done the opposite of what it was intended to do.
“I do not believe Ontario News Now is effective at swinging public opinion,” Wiseman said. “Indeed, I believe it has hurt the conservatives in the eyes of the public that is familiar with the site because it is perceived as propaganda paid for by taxpayers.”
Its unclear right now what a “reconfiguration” of the brand would involve.
Currently Lyndsey Vanstone, communications director for PC caucus services, plays the role of a reporter in segments produced to look and feel like mainstream news stories.
The content, however, is always favourable to the PC party and is used to highlight government talking points.
“Ford can tinker with the name and the look of Ontario News Now all he wants, but a new look won’t change the facts,” Ontario Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner said Friday.
“It’s a partisan news channel unskillfully disguised as independent media. Worse, it’s paid for by the public and churns out PC propaganda.”
Schreiner also renewed his calls for Ontario News Now to be shut down altogether.