Bell Exec Urged ‘Positive’ Spin on News After Firing of LaFlamme

In the wake of the high-profile firing of CTV anchor Lisa LaFlamme last year, Bell Media President, Wade Oosterman urged news managers to adopt a more “balanced perspective” in news coverage about the parent company.

The Bell executive suggested a “positive spin” on stories involving parent company BCE, according to an audio recording of a meeting held on August 24, 2022, reports The Globe and Mail. The move calls into question the journalistic independence of Bell news outlets.

Oosterman, who also serves as the vice-chair of BCE, expressed a determination to bring more balance to CTV news programming to attract a larger audience and avoid potential budget cuts due to dwindling viewership.

Without specifying the missing perspective from CTV news coverage, two anonymous former news managers cited Oosterman’s criticism of LaFlamme’s newscast as being overly supportive of the federal Liberals.

In the same meeting, Oosterman advised CTV journalists to adopt a supportive approach when reporting on Bell, the telecom giant, albeit not at the cost of distorting reality. He suggested favouring a positive spin, especially when it comes to reporting on BCE’s financial performance.

While emphasizing BCE’s value as a “jewel”, Oosterman expressed confusion as to why the company’s accomplishments were not being embraced more enthusiastically.

However, these comments seem to contradict BCE’s journalistic independence policy. This policy was established to reinforce the principles of news independence and non-interference between BCE and CTV News, emphasizing the necessity of maintaining viewer and listener trust.

In response, Tammy Scott, Senior Vice-President of Communications at BCE, clarified that while BCE executives can propose news coverage ideas, the final decisions on coverage are made by editors, adhering to standards of accuracy, fairness, completeness, honesty, transparency, and independence.

Oosterman addressed the meeting, attended by over a dozen news managers, to discuss LaFlamme’s departure and emphasized that her dismissal was not a result of discriminatory practices based on her hair colour or age.

He also warned that CTV was losing audiences to on-demand and digital-streaming services at an alarming rate. The network must deliver compelling content or prepare for substantial cost cuts, said Oosterman.

This follows Bell Media’s recent announcement of cutting 1,300 positions, around 3% of its workforce, and closing or selling nine radio stations, in response to what it claims is unfavourable public policy and regulatory conditions.

LaFlamme, a news veteran of 35 years, said at the time Bell Media called her contract dismissal a “business decision”. She said she was “blindsided” by Bell Media and was “shocked and saddened” at the time. Rogers later hired LaFlamme to cover the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II as a special correspondent for CityNews.

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