CBC ombusdman says Marketplace segment on hearing aids needed more info

 By CBC ombudsman Esther Enkin

 By CBC ombudsman Esther Enkin

CBC News Marketplace challenged the high cost of hearing aids in a program entitled “Price Tag Confidential”. The segment raised issues about the cost of the hearing aids and the lack of clarity for consumers about what they are paying for. Joanne Charlebois, Executive Director of the Canadian Association of Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists , found the piece simplistic and unfair. I agreed that the piece would have been better balanced if it had left itself time to explore the issues more thoroughly.


When you filed your complaint, you said you were doing so on behalf of the 6,000 members of the Canadian Association of Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists (CASLPA). You had many concerns about a segment on Marketplace which ran last February as part of a program entitled “Price Tag Confidential.” The premise behind “Price Tag Confidential” is that experts give insights into why goods or services are priced the way they are, exposing disparities or questioning the legitimacy of the cost. This particular episode dealt with the big disparity in price in Canada and the United States of some common consumer products, the true cost, versus the price of beauty products, and why and how companies justify the cost, and finally, the cost of hearing aids. And that was the segment you found very problematic.

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The segment began with a consumer who had invested three thousand dollars in her hearing aid, but didn’t wear it. She wasn’t comfortable with the way it fit or worked, but said she would not replace it due to cost. She questioned why the device was so pricey. As in the case of many Marketplace investigations, it was prompted by viewer queries and confusion about the pricing; in this case, of hearing aids.

The expert Marketplace featured to explain the price is an American engineer, Russ Apfel. The program dubs these specialists “insiders” whose role is to deconstruct and give consumers information about the true cost of a good or service, and what is behind existing pricing. One of your concerns was the use of Mr. Apfel as the lone voice in the piece. You questioned why the program did not mention that Mr. Apfel has a company, Audiotoniq, which sells hearing aids on line, and therefore put him in a conflict of interest. At the very least you felt this violated CBC journalism policy because it omitted relevant information that would help audience members to judge the “relevance and credibility of statements.” You felt his analysis was “simplistic and one-sided” and so was also biased in its presentation.

To continue reading this review, please go the ombudsman's website where it was originally published.