Bell Media executives on Thursday looked to regain control of the internal narrative surrounding the end of star anchor and senior editor Lisa LaFlamme’s contract, acknowledging that there has been “damage” to CTV’s reputation as a result of the high-profile exit.
But a town hall meeting and company memo also served to highlight tensions within the newsroom.
At the afternoon meeting, Michael Melling, the company’s head of news, and Karine Moses, senior vice-president of content development and news, addressed staff.
“I know the team is hurting right now … I am sorry for anyone who has been dragged into this,” said Melling, acknowledging the furious public backlash around LaFlamme’s surprise exit.
The company decided to “move on” from LaFlamme to pursue its “vision” based on factors including audience trends, said Moses, who was behind a table with Melling.
LaFlamme announced her departure Monday through a video posted on Twitter. She said she had been “blindsided” by Bell Media’s decision to end her contract. Public reaction was swift, with critics alleging sexism and ageism as factors in the ending of the 58-year-old’s more than three decades with the company. Further criticism about the culture at CTV News subsequently emerged from staff.
At the Thursday meeting, LaFlamme’s former executive producer, Rosa Hwang, pressed the two executives to clarify whether the decision to end the anchor’s contract had to do with age or gender, asking: “What factors made you think she wouldn’t align with the vision?”
“Was it her age?”
Moses replied: “No. Seriously, I’m a woman. … I’ve been here 25 years. And do you really think I would fire a woman because she’s a woman?”
“So she was fired then?” Hwang asked.
“That’s not what I’m saying, but you know what I mean,” Moses said, before a moderator cut off Hwang’s line of questioning to move on to the next topic.
Melling said the company would co-ordinate “small team meetings” to provide further context for LaFlamme’s departure, including sharing financial data, and he invited staff to help come up with ways to “map out our future forward together.”
The meeting lasted about half an hour.
“The whole meeting was a disaster,” a staff member later told the Star, speaking on the condition of anonymity, because, they said, they fear reprisal.
“Michael Melling and Karine Moses just abruptly ended the meeting when there were still multiple people who still had questions to ask. … It was extremely disrespectful. It was such a mess; we don’t think it could have gone worse.”
“The general consensus amongst the newsroom is that meeting was a joke,” a producer told the Star. “Lots of empty words and platitudes, absolutely no substance. They called together a room full of professional, career journalists and got absolutely grilled, and had no answers ready. Nobody is happy.”
The meeting followed an internal memo Thursday morning that stated that it had been LaFlamme’s choice not to bid viewers farewell on CTV National News.
The memo to staff from Moses addressed media coverage of LaFlamme’s termination, saying it has been filled with “false narratives.”
“I also want to specifically address accusations that Lisa LaFlamme was not given the opportunity to come back into the studio and have her career at CTV be appropriately celebrated,” read the statement addressed to Bell Media news team members and leaders.
“I have the utmost respect for the contributions that Lisa has made over the last 35 years, and we all wanted to follow the customary practice you have seen in the past of giving proper on air send-off, highlighting her major career achievements.
“As Lisa mentioned in her statement, she was informed of our decision on June 29. After June 29 Lisa was allowed to and did continue to work, covering the papal visit and anchoring the National News during the week of July 25,” wrote Moses, who’s also Bell vice-chair, Québec.
“She opted to not say goodbye to the public during a CTV National newscast. While I wish things had been different, I also respect her decision.”
Several CTV employees told the Star that the memo was upsetting to them and that they were considering leaving the company. The message, one producer felt, was: “Basically … you all have it wrong; we don’t believe how you feel to be true, mostly because my experience has been positive.”
Another producer said the memo was being seen as an implicit threat to CTV employees who spoke critically about the company’s handling of LaFlamme’s contract: “The memo is just corporate speak for ‘How dare you say things you believe to be true about this newsroom we seemingly have abandoned with no leadership and no communication in an extremely harsh and abrupt manner.’”
In the video she tweeted announcing her departure Monday, LaFlamme said it was “crushing to be leaving CTV National News in a manner that is not my choice.”
“I guess this is my signoff from CTV,” said LaFlamme in the video. “I want to express my deepest gratitude to all of you. To my incredible colleagues for their unwavering support, my dear friends and my loving family.”
LaFlamme had been anchoring the network’s national news program since 2011, part of a 35-year, award-winning career at CTV.
LaFlamme has not responded publicly to the characterization of her departure in Thursday’s memo.
LaFlamme’s replacement, Omar Sachedina, is due to start his role Sept. 5. Until then, Sandie Rinaldo will serve as national anchor, Thursday’s memo said.
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