which went on the air in 1972, is a weekly half-hour prime-time
consumer news show on CBC. It has won many national and international
awards, including the Gemini in 1994 as Canada's best information
program. The format, which has changed little over its history,
involves a pair of hosts introducing segments on product testing,
service evaluation, fraudulent practices and trends in consumer
advocacy. The show's audience has held up well for more than two
decades--it remains one of CBC's most highly rated shows--and it
is regarded by many in the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation as
the benchmark by which other public affairs programs should be judged.
The first producer, Dodi Robb, with consumer reporter Joan Watson
(from CBC radio) and broadcaster George Finstad as hosts, had a
mandate to inform consumers about questionable sales practices and
inferior products. From the beginning, the show treated consumer
information as hard news, but it gradually expanded its mandate
to include investigative reports with particular attention to public
health and safety. According to Globe and Mail television
writer John Haslett Cuff, the program is "a veritable gadfly in
the hard-sell marketplace of consumer television." It is "routinely
monitored . . . by manufacturers and government regulatory agencies
and frequently copied by American newsmagazine programs such as
60 Minutes and 20/20." Although it does put defenders
of commercial practices and products on "hot seat," it has an earnest
quality that distinguishes it from the "ambush journalism" sometimes
practiced by U.S. public affairs producers.
The program not only gets headlines, but, as one reviewer put it,
it gets results. Laws have been amended, new regulations adopted
and consumer guidelines imposed as a result of Marketplace
reports. Among its major contributions are: the banning of urea
formaldehyde foam insulation (UFFI) and lawn darts; warnings on
pop bottles that sometimes explode on store shelves; prosecution
of retailers for false advertising (leading in one case to a fine
of $1 million); new standards for bottled drinking water, drinking
fountains; new regulations for children's nightwear (to make them
less flammable); new designs for children's cribs. From tests for
bacteria content in supermarket hamburger (an early report) to checks
on the safety of furnaces and long-haul tractor trailers, the program
has used its small staff--relying on independent laboratories for
tests--to considerable effect. Despite law suits and threats of
suits (and other pressures), the show has retained its probing quality.
The longest serving hosts, Joan Watson and Bill Paul became leading
Photo courtesy of CBC
have commented that the tough-minded consumer advocacy practiced
by Marketplace is the kind of programming that public broadcasters,
somewhat insulated from commercial considerations, should be providing.
It is unlikely that the show would have had the same effectiveness
and longevity in private-sector television. Its producers attribute
consistent good ratings to its focus on the personal concerns of
its audience, which derives in part from careful attention to the
thousands of letters it receives from viewers each year, many of
which have led to Marketplace investigations. Freedom from commercial
pressures may also be significant.
J. Fletcher and Robert Everett
George Finstad, Joan Watson, Harry Brown, Bill Paul,
Christine Brown, and others
Dodi Robb, Bill Harcourt, Jock Ferguson, Murray Creed
Mary Jane. Turn Up the Contrast: CBC Television Drama Since 1952.
Vancouver, Canada: University of British Columbia Press, 1987.
Sandy. Here's Looking At Us: A Personal History of Television
in Canada. Toronto, Canada: CBC Enterprises, 1986.
Programming in English