Bell bosses’ blunders fan flames over LaFlamme’s firing Credibility at CTV News takes punch to jaw with embarrassing ‘do as we say, not as we do’ toxic-workplace approach
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 29/08/2022 (210 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
In an interesting side note to the whole Lisa LaFlamme scandal, you may be interested to know that CTV News — the venerable organization that recently fired the 58-year-old anchor from her job at the top-rated national news program in the country — has broadcast more than 40 stories on toxic and abusive workplaces since the start of 2021.
There were stories about private-sector employers that allowed rampant sexual harassment. There were also toxic leadership stories about the RCMP, the Canadian military and among the Rideau Hall staff serving former governor general Julie Payette.
In all those stories, CTV News unflinchingly reported all of the ugly details of the misbehaviour and abuse, with all of the judgmental contempt that news organizations employ when reporting on bad people doing bad things.
And yet, ironically, CTV News is looking more and more like one of those places where bad people do bad things.
On Aug. 15, LaFlamme posted a video on social media announcing that, against her wishes, her contract as the anchor of the CTV National News had been terminated “for business reasons.”
Bell Media, the parent company of CTV, refused to say exactly why it terminated the 2022 winner of the Canadian Screen Award for best news anchor, other than the network wanted to take the chief news anchor role “in a different direction.”
The murkiness continued this week when Mirko Bibic, the president of parent company BCE Inc., posted an open letter on LinkedIn assuring employees and the public that while he could not explain exactly why the decision was made, it had nothing to do with “Lisa’s age, gender or grey hair.”
That is a hilariously weak statement, given the existence of news reports citing anonymous CTV sources who said the man who fired LaFlamme, Bell Media VP of News Michael Melling, openly questioned the anchor’s decision during the pandemic to stop colouring her hair and go completely grey.
The hits just kept on coming for CTV after it was forced to reveal that Melling had been put on leave pending a review of workplace culture. And then, additional news reports confirmed there had been at least three formal complaints about workplace misconduct filed in newsrooms overseen by Melling.
The problem facing CTV executives is that, notwithstanding their assurances, the circumstantial evidence stacked against them is truly compelling.
LaFlamme was, by all accounts, the best national news anchor in the country. She helmed the highest-rated news program in the country. And she was also a 58-year-old woman in an industry that has a tradition of retiring women decades sooner than it retires men doing the same job.
The thinly veiled actions by CTV prompted opinion-leading Canadians from business, entertainment and academia to publish an open letter in the Globe and Mail last weekend calling upon CTV to explain itself and remedy the situation. Private companies such as Wendy’s and Dove, some of whom spend gobs of money advertising on CTV shows, both launched social media campaigns in support of LaFlamme.
All that brings us back to CTV’s voluminous reporting on workplace toxicity. In short, shouldn’t the simple act of repeatedly reporting the gruesome details of toxic workplace behaviour help a news organization avoid making the same mistakes?
Obviously, casting judgment on others does not, in and of itself, make us immune from toxic behaviour.
Although journalism in this country has a remarkable record of bringing truth to power and prompting positive change, newsrooms continue to fall prey to the same old problems that afflict other workplaces.
Journalism is still too male, too white and too straight for its own good. Some attempts at improving the diversity of newsrooms and news content have been successful, but the distrust that under-represented groups have about the lens through which news organizations see the world is still very palpable.
In many ways, that’s too bad because the world’s best news organizations — warts and all — have a key role to play in combatting toxic behaviour.
The Harvey Weinstein case is an interesting case study of how news organizations can either be part of the problem and part of the solution when it comes to the worst examples of toxic workplace culture.
Journalism is still too male, too white and too straight for its own good.
For many years, the uber-powerful Hollywood producer committed gross acts of indecency and violence against women in the entertainment industry. In some instances, news organizations dug up details of his horrendous acts, only to bury the stories as a favour to Weinstein or wilt under his relentless threats of legal action.
Thankfully, the New York Times and The New Yorker magazine jointly published an investigation in 2017 that revealed more than a dozen women had accused him of sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape. That and other coverage in traditional news organizations helped amplify the #MeToo movement and led to Weinstein being convicted in New York and sentenced to 23 years in prison.
Bell executives’ refusal to own their horrible decision to fire LaFlamme has put CTV News in a difficult position as far as its credibility is concerned. And they have guaranteed that this will be a story for months to come.
I can only hope that all of the news organizations reporting on the CTV dumpster fire take a moment to ask themselves one important question: are we absolutely entitled to throw the first stone?
Born and raised in and around Toronto, Dan Lett came to Winnipeg in 1986, less than a year out of journalism school with a lifelong dream to be a newspaper reporter.