Canadian Association of Journalists worried about editorial interference by management at CTV National News

·6 min read
Lisa LaFlamme, pictured on Aug. 17 in Toronto, says she was 'blindsided' as Bell Media ended her contract at CTV National News after more than 30 years. (George Pimentel/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Lisa LaFlamme, pictured on Aug. 17 in Toronto, says she was 'blindsided' as Bell Media ended her contract at CTV National News after more than 30 years. (George Pimentel/The Canadian Press - image credit)

The Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ) said it has concerns about journalistic freedom at CTV National News, the Bell-owned network's nightly newscast that has been the focus of scrutiny following the departure of chief anchor Lisa LaFlamme.

A TV story about Dove's "Keep the Grey" campaign that was scheduled to air on Wednesday didn't run because management ordered the removal of images or video of LaFlamme, according to three CTV sources who spoke to CBC News on the condition they not be named because they weren't authorized to discuss the issue publicly.

Dove said the campaign was launched in response to the widespread national conversation about grey hair and ageism in the workplace. The company didn't directly reference LaFlamme, but many have tied the campaign to her ouster as chief anchor at CTV National News.

There were recent media reports her dismissal may have been tied to her decision to stop dyeing her hair during the pandemic. It's a claim CTV's parent company Bell Media strongly denies.

Sources said Richard Gray, the regional manager of the eastern region at Bell Media, was behind the decision to remove images or video of LaFlamme in the piece. Gray was recently appointed to replace Michael Melling as acting vice-president of news. The company announced Friday that Melling has gone on leave from the job.

"If this passes — and is allowed to pass — what happens the next time?" CAJ president Brent Jolly said in an interview with CBC News.

"At what point does the issue of editorial independence become questioned? This is not a legal issue. It's an issue of shaping the focus and tenor of the story."

Management feedback on story crossed line: sources

A source at CTV said it's not unusual for management to give feedback on stories, "but there was concern that journalistic and editorial independence was breached."

In the end, the story did not air on television.

"The newsroom ultimately pushed back on these restrictions," said Jolly.

Another source at CTV said employees discussed their editorial concerns at a team meeting attended by national editors, writers, producers and reporters on Thursday.

"It was very confusing. Up until that moment, Richard Gray had no dealings with the national show whatsoever," they said.

"We felt as a group that our credibility was at risk because we were being prevented from reporting on an issue … that is newsworthy. It was the biggest news story in Canada. And we couldn't report on it."

They went on to say: "We felt muzzled and scared."

WATCH | LaFlamme discusses end of her tenure at CTV News: 

But when more companies, like Wendy's and Sports Illustrated, showed their support for LaFlamme by unveiling similar marketing campaigns, the story was again pitched by journalists at CTV.

This time, it aired with images and clips of LaFlamme and it was retweeted by many journalists at the company.

A Bell Media spokesperson said in a statement to CBC News on Friday that all editorial decisions, including on stories related to LaFlamme's departure, have been made by CTV News editorial leaders.

"Bell Media and CTV News are committed to upholding the principles of journalistic independence and integrity under all circumstances and at all times, without exception," the spokesperson said.

Jolly said CTV journalists approached his organization to help advocate on their behalf because they are not unionized and they felt unsupported.

"People are not able to speak out in the traditional way," he said.

Michael Melling/Linkedin, George Pimentel/The Canadian Press
Michael Melling/Linkedin, George Pimentel/The Canadian Press

CTV exec takes leave amid fallout from LaFlamme's departure

According to an internal memo from Bell Media released Friday, Melling, had decided to take a leave from his current role to spend time with his family.

The memo was signed by Bell Media senior vice-president Karine Moses. But in another statement released the same day, Bell president and CEO Mirko Bibic said Melling was on leave "pending the outcome of [a] workplace review."

Melling faced a wave of criticism over LaFlamme's abrupt dismissal from CTV, which raised allegations of sexism and ageism.

LaFlamme said she was "blindsided" when Bell Media ended her contract at CTV National News after more than 30 years. The company said the move was a "business decision" that will move the chief news anchor role in "a different direction."

However, last week, Bell Media said LaFlamme's firing would undergo an independent review.

CTV journalists raise concerns in letter

In an introductory letter to Bibic, Bell's board of directors and Bell president Wade Oosterman dated Aug. 22, human rights lawyer Paul Champ wrote his firm had been approached by a group of CTV News journalists who had serious concerns about LaFlamme's dismissal and "the toxic work culture that has developed at CTV over the past eight months."

"These well-respected journalists have concerns about denigrating comments and adverse treatment in the workplace, with intimidation and reprisal being a common response to any who question the decision-making or processes of the new vice-president of CTV News [Michael Melling]."

READ | Letter to BCE's president from lawyer about concerns at CTV News: 

In a separate letter to Bibic and Bell's board of directors, unnamed CTV journalists wrote that they found it necessary to shield their identities because professional retaliation had become a significant risk in the news division in the last eight months.

Melling's appointment as head of CTV's news division was announced in January.

In their letter, staff wrote they were deeply troubled by Melling's lack of experience in national and international news, and reports of "inappropriate and offensive" comments made by him regarding LaFlamme's appearance.

The journalists stated they believed CTV's decision to part ways with LaFlamme was "based more on personal malice than any business-related reasons." They went on to say that her dismissal was "tainted by ageism, sexism and misogyny at the hands of a male boss."

READ | Letter to BCE's president, board of directors from unnamed CTV News journalists: 

But Bibic denies that.

"The narrative has been that Lisa's age, gender or grey hair played into the decision. I am satisfied that this is not the case and wanted to make sure you heard it from me," he wrote in a LinkedIn post.

"The days when viewers wait until 11 p.m. to get their news are gone. While some may resist change, it is necessary and we need to confront this."

Bibic also stated that Melling was on leave pending the outcome of a workplace review.

The journalists requested that Bell executives and board members respond to their letter by Aug. 29.

On Monday, Bell Media's President Wade Oosterman posted a response addressed to lawyer Paul Champ to social media.

He wrote that "any allegations that Bell Media management acted in contravention of our Journalistic Independence Policy in covering the Lisa LaFlamme story are outrageous. Just as the termination of Lisa LaFlamme's contract had nothing to do with age, gender or grey hair."

The letter also stated that prior to his leave, Melling had recused himself from any editorial decision making relating to the termination of LaFlamme's contract.

"In this instance, Mr. Melling quite properly delegated his final editorial privilege to Mr. Richard Gray. Mr. Gray has since assumed the role of acting Vice President CTV News while Mr. Melling is on leave," wrote Oosterman.

Oosterman also stated that Gray approved the story that aired on CTV National News on Thursday about Dove's "Keep the Grey" campaign and noted that it included footage of LaFlamme.