Bell Denies Emails by President to CTV Was for Pro-Wireless Coverage [PICS]

Carleton professor Dwayne Winseck recently posted (via Michael Geist) redacted internal emails from Bell Media President Kevin Crull, to the company’s internal CTV news outlets and radio stations, alleging the former had sent memos for favourable news coverage of the Wall Report, which stated wireless prices in Canada were second most expensive for average use and third most expensive for high volume use.

The allegations were Crull wanted CTV stations and radio to highlight how cellphone rates in Canada had fallen in recent years and are generally cheaper than the USA, according to Winseck:

More troubling, and a point that has not yet seen the light of day, is a chain of emails originating from Kevin Crull, the President of Bell Media – the largest media enterprise and one of the largest news organizations in the country — calling on news execs and journalists across CTV, CTV2 and local TV channels and radio stations across the country to cover a study that suggests that the state of wireless in Canada is not as bad as its critics claim. A copy of the emails, with the names of non-executives removed, can be found here.

Two of the three email screenshots are below with redacted names of non-Bell executives:

Screen Shot 2013 08 29 at 10 51 06 PM

Screen Shot 2013 08 29 at 10 51 18 PM

Winseck goes on to say the fact these emails exist “is not good for journalism or Canadians”:

While it is understandable, perhaps, that BCE would deploy its journalistic resources to protect its place within the wireless oligopoly, this is not good for journalism or Canadians. It casts a cloud over the independence of CTV national news as well as news programs across the CTV2 network and Bell Media’s local tv and radio stations across the country. While we know of this particular instance, how many other directives from on high have been sent over not just this issue, but other ones in which Bell sees its interests at stake?

Bell Media’s Scott Henderson, VP of communications, released a statement to Steve Faguy, a freelance journalist in Montreal, over Winseck’s allegations:

The Wall Report was a key news story covered by most major news outlets. CTV News and Bell Media Radio provided fair and balanced coverage and stand by their journalistic integrity.

Our news divisions are independently managed and have the full power to make editorial decisions, as outlined in the CTV News Policy Handbook (excerpted below).

2.32 Stories Concerning CTV or Affiliated Companies

Stories concerning the CTV Television Network, affiliated companies or shareholders should be covered in accordance with the same standards of fairness, balance and accuracy applied to any other story. Stories should be neither underreported nor over-reported. Reports on our parent companies, Bell and BCE should include an acknowledgement that they are the owners of our networks. CTV News employees invited to participate in stories should be treated with the same standards as other contributors.

2.33 In-Kind interviews and Product Reviews

Our journalism must remain free from undue commercial influence. If we compromise our principles for financial gain, we damage our credibility and the audience will turn away. If you receive a request to cover an event, review a product or interview an individual who has a commercial relationship with the company, that coverage should be proportional to the event’s newsworthiness.

From time to time, as President of Bell Media, Kevin Crull communicates to his Senior Leadership Team items of interest to the business. Kevin Crull’s e-mail with the Wall Report attached did not request coverage by Bell Media news properties.

Regardless, there is never any expectation for our news divisions to cover issues affecting the company – those decisions rest with the news directors alone and are based on the newsworthiness of the issue. When these issues are covered by Bell Media news properties, we are transparent with our viewers and listeners by acknowledging that Bell is our parent company.

Faguy pressed Henderson to inquire whether the leaked emails by Chris Gordon and Kevin Bell suggest some sort of communication failure–it was then Henderson responded with “We have no further comment.” did indeed cover the Wall Report, but referred to a Canadian Press story for coverage alongside a CTV News Channel interview with the person who wrote the report and a disclaimer at the end CTV is owned by Bell Media.

Faguy concludes with the following:

At best, these emails show an embarrassing communication failure within Bell Media that needs to be corrected quickly. At worst, they’re indicative of a serious issue of journalistic ethics within the organization, and of the need to separate the business operations of Bell and Bell Media from the editorial operations of CTV News, BNN and Bell Media Radio.

Either way, those who are already convinced that vertical integration is ruining the Canadian broadcasting system have another talking point to bring up about the Evil Bell Empire.

The wireless industry has become the new gold rush, as revenues for 2012 were estimated to be over $20 billion. Rogers, Telus and Bell have a combined market capitalization of just over $76 billion dollars, down over $8 billion after it was reported Verizon was rumoured to consider acquiring WIND Mobile. Macqaurie Securities analyst Greg MacDonald previously estimated incumbents could lose 1.5 million subscribers over five years if Verizon was to setup shop here, or $4 billion in lost revenue.

It’s clear why incumbents have spawned an aggressive advertising campaign to pressure Canadians for support with its ‘Fair for Canada’ campaign and Ottawa to reverse its wireless policies (which incumbents were consulted with and had agreed upon before they were established): massive profits from the pockets of Canadians are at stake.

Bell CEO George Cope, speaking on pushing Ottawa to change its “unfair” wireless policies for the sake of shareholders, customers and Canadians, previously stated “We will use every avenue we can in a professional way to pursue this.”

What’s your take on these leaked internal Bell emails? Do they surprise you at all?