Fertility groups have branded a Canadian radio station "tacky and distasteful" after it launched a competition to "win a baby".
Ottawa music station Hot 89.9 unveiled the contest on its breakfast show last month, offering three rounds of fertility treatment worth $35,000 (£21,700) to the contestant who convinced listeners and a panel of judges, including fertility specialists, they were most deserving of the prize. Those entering were asked to write 100 words on why they should win.
Advertisements featuring photographs of babies beside the slogan "she could be yours" and "are you my mommy?" were splashed around the city. The station in Ontario, where fertility treatment is not publicly funded, has received 400 applications from a diverse range of people including same-sex couples, single women and cancer patients. The winner will be announced on 10 October.
The contest was described as "an excellent idea" by one applicant, Kristy Middleton Leduc, who saw the posters and wondered if the station was "giving away babies". She and her husband have tried unsuccessfully to conceive for the last two and a half years. She said: "I would have liked [the competition] a little less in your face. Seeing the baby and wanting it so bad, something doesn't fit with it."
Gillian Wood entered in the hope of winning fertility treatment to conceive her second child but did not reach the final. She said: "When people reach the end of the rope, what are [they] going to do?". Her first child was conceived through IVF after six years of medical problems and treatment costing $38,000.
The competition and its marketing campaign were widely criticised after messages such as "see who you think deserves to win a baby" were broadcast to encourage listeners to vote.
Beverly Hanck, executive director of the Infertility Awareness Association of Canada, dismissed the contest as tacky and distasteful. She said: "The station is clearly capitalising on vulnerable patients who are desperate to have a family. Has anyone stopped to think how the hundreds of patients who do not win are going to feel?"
Toronto fertility counsellor Jan Silverman said she objected to "commodification of babies, turning babies into products" but added that the contest raised awareness about fertility issues and the high cost of treatment faced by one in six Ontario couples.
However, the station defended the competition. Breakfast show presenter Jeff Mauler denied that the competition exploited vulnerable people. "Read the rules and regulations and listen to the radio and then you will understand what the bigger picture is," he said. "We are trying to do a good thing for a family which can't conceive." He said no pressure would be placed on winners to reveal their identities. "We wanted to shock people, get them talking ... capture people's imagination," said Mauler.
Hot 89.9 is the latest Canadian radio station to use shock tactics to win listeners. Other recent prizes have included a Russian bride and breast implants.
Article: 7th October 2011 www.guardian.co.uk
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