By David Friend
The parent company of CTV News says it will launch a workplace review conducted by an independent party amid criticism of Lisa LaFlamme’s dismissal from her role as chief anchor.
Bell Media said in a statement Friday it “regrets” the way in which LaFlamme’s departure was handled, as it “may have left viewers with the wrong impression” that her storied career wasn’t valued.
On Monday, LaFlamme released a video statement saying she was “blindsided” after finding out in June that Bell Media was ending her contract at CTV National News. She said she kept the news under wraps until the details were finalized.
The dismissal, which Bell described as a “business decision,” raised questions among media observers about whether sexism and ageism played a role in the shakeup.
Bell Media said Friday it takes allegations of discrimination “very seriously” and is moving forward with a third-party internal workplace review in the newsroom over the coming weeks.
The company did not respond to questions about whether a firm has been chosen to conduct the review.
“In a news organization, making a change at the anchor desk is always a difficult decision. We knew that many viewers and members of the CTV family would be disappointed that Lisa LaFlamme would be leaving her position,” Bell Media’s statement said.
“CTV regrets that the way in which the news of her departure has been communicated may have left viewers with the wrong impression about how CTV regards Lisa and her remarkable career.”
LaFlamme’s departure and her replacement were announced on the same day Monday, frustrating viewers who felt LaFlamme should have had a proper sign-off and career retrospective after 35 years with the company.
In a town hall meeting with staff on Thursday, two key Bell Media executives offered their perspectives on the events that transpired in recent weeks.
Karine Moses, senior vice-president of content development and news for Bell Media, said LaFlamme rejected the opportunity to bid farewell on air.
In an audio recording of the meeting obtained by The Canadian Press, Moses told employees that LaFlamme wasn’t simply ousted from the company.
She “was offered many options to come back and to do many things, which she declined, and I respect that,” Moses said, without detailing the other job opportunities Bell Media presented to LaFlamme.
Moses was asked by one staff member to explain why leadership felt LaFlamme didn’t fit into their future business plan, or whether age and hair colour played a role in their decision. LaFlamme is 58 and had chosen to maintain a more natural grey hair colour during the pandemic.
“It’s a very, I would say, personal question,” Moses responded.
“I don’t think the intent of this meeting is to discuss the discussion that happened with somebody else. The intent of this meeting is to discuss what we want to do as a team,” Moses responded.
Pressed further about whether LaFlamme’s age or gender was an issue, Moses denied the suggestion.
“Not at all,” she said. “Seriously, I’m a woman. I’ve been here for 25 years, and do you really think I would fire a woman because she’s a woman?”
The same staff member pointed out that Moses used the word “fired” to describe LaFlamme’s exit.
Moses responds with, “That’s not what I’m saying, but you know what I mean,” and a moderator quickly moved on to another question.
Michael Melling, vice president of Bell Media’s news division, told staff he had no intention of speaking publicly or participating in media interviews about the recent events.
He said anonymous sources have been spreading erroneous information that was “said without context or manipulated.” He did not specify what he considered inaccurate.
Melling added that in the coming weeks he intends to hold “a number of small team meetings,” to discuss the future of the flagship newscast, promising to share audience figures and trends as well as financial data.
“I want you guys to see the bigger picture,” he said.
One CTV staff member raised concerns that incoming top anchor Omar Sachedina, who begins his new job as lead anchor on Sept. 5, has seen “a lot of damage” to his reputation from how Bell Media mishandled the transition.
“I think the public consensus is, right now, it looks like Omar stabbed Lisa in the back,” the employee said.
Moses, who earlier in the meeting acknowledged CTV shouldn’t have announced Sachedina’s appointment on the same day as LaFlamme’s departure, said “it might take time” for the new face of the brand to build trust with viewers. She added that she’s confident CTV News will “turn the corner.”
Addressing employee concerns about low morale in the newsroom, she said “it should not be like that.”
“We should feel good about where we work,” she said.
“So if you guys have any ideas … on why the morale is not good, I would like to know because we need to fix that.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 19, 2022.
Banner image via The Canadian Press