When is news a soft political add? Sometimes it feels pretty obvious. Universities and other large corporations often pay to get news like stories into major newspapers - entire departments of communications or 'university affairs' exist to write copy, network journalists, and get good news stories out there. Political parties are working get their stories out there as well. Staging events and press opportunities has long been the practice of politicians. Among this category of event is the community award.
Politicians aren't alone in creating awards. It's nice to piggyback on the notoriety of community feel-good events. Giving out awards to political supporters and people seen to have community networks of note has been a longstanding approach to soft campaigning. It's not so distasteful as using the position of government to hand out money to industry and community groups in the lead up to an election (that's typically reserved for ministers of the crown). It is, thought, a form of gaming the system just the same. Its a minor attempt to curry favour building and maintaining political support
The most recent Campus Resident carries a soft ad story that features the local Member of Parliament (MP) recognizing community members with an award. This erstwhile news story is more appropriately considered a combination political endorsement of the MP by the awardees and a free campaign add for the MP.
It's the MP's prerogative to bestow acknowledgement and honours as she sees fit. Acknowledging constituents with the partisanship of her office is a longstanding practice. The issue is whether these partisan events should be covered in a community newspaper as news or whether they really should be paid for as a political ad by the MP.