Catching Up on MediaPolicy.ca – Anonymous Sources in LaFlamme/CTV coverage – CRTC appointment – YouTube’s online cable TV.

August 21, 2022

Last Thursday I posted an opinion on CTV’s firing of national news anchor Lisa LaFlamme, describing it as self-sabotage of a great news organization. If you want to catch up on the controversy, I recommend Steve Faguy’s blog.

One observation I made in my post was that we can only draw conclusions from the facts we see above the water line. So long as LaFlamme and CTV Editorial VP Michael Melling are not granting interviews we can really only be sure of two things: she was fired and her age had something to do with it. 

Below the water-line, there may be more to be seen but with sources inside CTV requiring anonymity to speak out it remains murky for now.

Canadaland published a transcript of the staff meeting CTV executives held with a red-hot newsroom which came across exactly as you might have expected: an exercise in deflection. When asked point-blank if LaFlamme was fired because of her age, Bell Media Senior VP Karine Moses replied that as a woman herself she would not fire LaFlamme because LaFlamme is a woman.

Mainstream media outlets did a thorough job. The Globe reached a source who made a very specific allegation that he or she heard Melling grumble about LaFlamme’s decision to stop colouring her hair and wondered aloud who let her to do that. 

Put that in the smoking gun category?

Searching for more facts below the water-line, two other things emerged through anonymous sources. 

Canadaland’s Jesse Brown relied on a “high level CTV” source to support several allegations against Melling, the most damaging being an assessment of his general character that includes a stunning factual allegation:

“He’s a company man,” says the high-level CTV source.  “He does not stand up for the journalists…He doesn’t like it when women push back and he brags about how he’s destroyed careers of anyone who dares push back.” (Emphasis added).

So far, no one corroborates that Melling has bragged about destroying careers.

The Toronto Sun’s Brian Lilley took another tack by claiming that one of the reasons LaFlamme was fired was because of her newscast’s reporting of the 2018 Patrick Brown story involving young women. The background requires diving down a rabbit hole: you can read about the story here, Brown’s lawsuit against CTV here, and the cashless settlement of the court action here and here.

It’s fair to say that from the beginning of the Brown story Postmedia writers portrayed their rival CTV’s coverage as irresponsible. And editorially Postmedia has supported Brown’s political career. 

Lilley’s recent coverage cites at least two anonymous sources quoted thus:

“They were giddy,” said one former colleague of LaFlamme and her executive producer Rosa Hwang as they were working on the story.

“They wanted their own ‘Me Too’ story and were determined to get it,” said another co-worker of the pair.”

The latter source (a co-worker) is offering an opinion (or perhaps the supporting facts were edited out of the story).

The first source —a “former colleague”— makes a damaging allegation against LaFlamme and Hwang— but it’s thin on the facts (“giddy”). And the question must be asked about Lilley’s reporting on such a key and sole sourced allegation: why is a former colleague granted anonymity?

Lilley concludes: “The Brown case wasn’t the only factor in LaFlamme’s dismissal, but it was a factor alongside several others.”

From here, Lilley’s column looks like a relitigation of CTV’s coverage of the Brown story: LaFlamme and Hwang just get smeared in the drive-by.

As a non-journalist I don’t have an intuitive grasp of when ethical lines about the use of anonymous sources get crossed. Feel free to leave a comment on this page.

***

The government has filled on an interim basis the CRTC Broadcasting Vice-Chair vacancy created by the departure of Caroline Simard with Alicia Barin, the current Québec commissioner.

Simard has left the Commission to become the Commissioner of Elections Canada rather than seek a renewal of her five-year term at the CRTC or apply for the CRTC Chair position vacated by the outgoing Ian Scott.

Simard is the author of two very strongly worded dissents against Scott’s majority decisions in the CBC Licence Renewal and the “N-Word” Radio Canada ruling.

Barin voted with Scott on the CBC licence renewal which is being appealed by a number of organizations, including the government of Québec.  It’s unknown if Barin was involved in the Radio Canada ruling since the adjudication of the listener complaint was not conducted as a public hearing.

***

Google announced its hosting platform YouTube will offer a multi-channel online broadcasting distribution service in Europe similar to Roku and Amazon Prime. It already offers an online cable bundle as YouTubeTV in the United States.

As I posted previously during the Bill C-11 debate, YouTube operates different lines of broadcasting businesses. YouTube’s “user generated content” ecosystem is just one of them.

Published by

Howard Law

I am retired staff of Unifor, the union representing 300,000 Canadians in twenty different sectors of the economy, including 10,000 journalists and media workers. As the former Director of the Media Sector and as an unapologetic cultural nationalist, I have an abiding passion for public policy in Canadian media.

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