Yesterday, whistleblowing employees anonymously shared (ironically to The Globe and Mail, 15% owned by BCE) how Bell Media head Kevin Crull interfered with CTV News editors, in how CRTC coverage was to be portrayed.
The allegations resulted in CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais blasting CTV News and questioning its editorial independence.
Eventually, Crull released a statement explaining what really happened, in what he calls a “mistake” for his “intrusion” on the news team:
I reached out to the CTV News leadership team to let them know I felt the focus on the CRTC itself by CTV and other Canadian news organizations would be better placed on a broad and necessary discussion of the impacts of the CRTC’s decisions on consumers, our team members, and our business.
It was wrong of me to be anything but absolutely clear that editorial control always rests with the news team. I have apologized to the team directly for this mistake. Indeed their strong and straightforward reaction to my intrusion only heightens my appreciation of their independence, integrity and professionalism. It is crucial to note that CTV’s coverage of the CRTC’s decisions was fair, balanced and extensive, and stands up in comparison to coverage of the issue by any Canadian news organization.
In short, I’ve re-learned a valuable lesson from the best news team in the business.
This isn’t the first time Crull has tried to influence news stories from CTV, as journalist Peter Nowak directs us to how Carleton University professor Dwayne Winseck claims Bell gets periodic special treatment by CTV (Updated to note the claims are from Winseck, not Nowak):
Soon after I released the Bell Memos post, I was approached by a journalist at Business News Network (BNN) with claims that the Crull emails I cited was not an isolated instance. They chimed well with their own experience at BNN, I was told. Senior editors and news managers at the BCE-owned TV channel have also adopted editorial policies and interviewing practices that give special treatment to BCE executives who appear on BNN shows such as Business Day and Streetwise, according to my source.
An example is back in 2013, when Bell reportedly sent a memo to CTV news to air Canada’s wireless environment in a glowing light.
Nowak suggests checks and balances should be in place for companies like Bell that are vertically integrated:
At a minimum, the company and all vertically integrated entities should be required to establish independent ombudsmen to whom all employees can report attempts at editorial influence. As media blogger Steve Faguy suggests, those ombudsmen should then be required to make regular public reports of such attempts.
Ottawa law professor Michael Geist nails it on why Bell is so angry over the pick-and-pay TV decision:
It is no coincidence that Bell’s anger boiled over with the pick-and-pay decision, since it was particularly harmful to Bell’s one-bundle vision. A week after the decision, Bell has still not publicly commented on the ruling, but three aspects of the decision represent worst case scenarios for the company. First, pick-and-pay will make it far more difficult for the company to cross-subsidize some of its unpopular channels through bundling. With limited ad revenue and lost subscription revenue, some of those channels will shut down.
Second, the basic service requirement of a $25 package hurts Bell the most, since its Bell Fibe service has the highest price among the major providers for basic service. Further, while it might be inclined to exclude U.S. channels from the basic package, it will be difficult to do if competitors such as Rogers (which argued for inclusion of the U.S. channels in a basic service and is bleeding customers to IPTV services) add them to its service.
Geist also shares the following “What on earth is happening at Bell?” slideshow, which definitely gets people thinking:
You seriously can’t make this stuff up. These events sound like they’re from an episode of The Newsroom.