What Are The Odds That CTV Had No Idea Firing Lisa LaFlamme Would Become a PR Nightmare?

It's gotta be 100%, right?

logo

Stacy Lee Kong

Aug 19 2022

12 mins read

0

Image: CTV

‎I turned 37 earlier this year, and it has been kind of a trip. In some ways, I’m more confident than I’ve ever been. I’m definitely more comfortable in my skin, and I worry way less about what people think about me. But this week, I’ve also come to a depressing conclusion: there will never actually be a time when I’m the ‘right’ age, especially at work. For a long time, journalism higher-ups have implicitly (and sometimes explicitly) told me that they perceive me as younger than my actual age, and that they don’t see me as a leader—even though I'd been doing leadership work for years. They didn’t necessarily acknowledge that these things were connected, but I sure did.

Now, I’m firmly in my late 30s with 15 years of journalism experience, and I’m surrounded by stories of female journalists who have been abruptly let go once they got ‘too old.’ The most recent, of course, is veteran CTV news anchor Lisa LaFlamme, whose contract was quietly terminated by the network on June 29. She was forbidden from revealing this news until executives had worked out a succession plan, which is why we only learned the news this week via a video posted to her Twitter account.

‎In it, LaFlamme—who had worked for CTV for 35 years, including 11 years as chief anchor and senior editor of CTV News, and in April took home the best national news anchor award at the 2022 Canadian Screen Awards for the second year in a row—says she was “shocked and saddened by Bell Media's decision” to end her contract two years early, something the company characterized to her as a “business decision.”

I was also pretty shocked; as I wrote on Instagram, my family has always been a CTV family and female anchors like LaFlamme, as well as Andria Case, Sandie Rinaldo and Pauline Chan, were among the first journalists I looked up to, even though I didn't necessarily want to work in TV news. But the way CTV handled this transition made it so much worse. In a statement released the same day as LaFlamme's tweet—and less than an hour before a second statement announcing national affairs correspondent Omar Sachedina would be taking on the chief anchor and senior editor role—the network said “changing viewer habits” inspired this change and that it would be taking the newscast and the role of chief anchor “in a different direction.”

But we all know that’s bullshit, right?

Lisa LaFlamme was fired because of ageism, sexism and misogyny

According to a Globe & Mail article published this week, “LaFlamme presided over one of the most-watched newscasts in Canada, whose ratings significantly outpaced competitors.” Reporter Susan Krashinsky Robertson used data from Numeris, a Canadian audience measurement organization that tracks “average minute audience,” or the estimated number of viewers who watch a show during an average minute. And what do you know? It turns out that under LaFlamme, the 11 p.m. CTV News newscast drew an average minute audience of 886,000 people. That’s almost 300,000 more viewers than its closest competitor: Global’s 5:30 p.m. News Hour newscast drew 588,000 viewers, while the Global National newscast drew 562,000. It was outranked only by CTV’s other newscasts—the network’s 6 p.m. local newscasts had an average minute audience of 1.2 million and CTV Evening News Weekend had just over a million viewers.

‎She is also deeply respected in the industry. Numerous journalists have posted about her impact on their own journalism careers, including Althia Raj, Adrienne Arsenault, Annie Bergeron-Oliver, Dawna Friesen, Evan Soloman, Farrah Nasser, Kamil Karamali, Stephanie Hinds and Waubgeshig Rice, among many others. In a post for journalism collective The Line about the abrupt restructurings he’d experienced at CTV, ABC and CBC, journalist and anchor Kevin Newman called her “one of the public’s most visible advocates of responsible journalism, a woman who broke the glass ceiling and sustained a ratings lead for a decade,” while CBC’s The National co-host Ian Hanomansing told the Toronto Star he didn’t buy CTV’s explanation for her firing: “What is the real reason for parting ways with her, when she’s as good as she is, when she’s on top of her game, when she clearly wants to do this and she does it so well, and the newscast… does so well both in terms of ratings and also in terms of the quality of the newscast. If you put all that stuff together, then why would you do it?”

Well, based on the reporting that has come out post-announcement, it seems clear the answer to that question is... the bruised ego of Michael Melling, the recently appointed vice president of news at Bell Media. According to a Canadaland report, Melling was the executive who made the call to end LaFlamme’s contract, and his decision stemmed from two incidents where she pushed back against his directives. The first was during the network’s coverage of the war in Ukraine when the two clashed over budgets. The second was because LaFlamme advocated for executive producer Rosa Hwang when Melling tried to move her from CTV News to the station’s local news channel, CP24.

‎While disagreements between editorial and corporate interests are normal, we must acknowledge how LaFlamme’s gender and age (she’s 58) played into how Melling and CTV treated her. As one source told Canadaland, “[Melling] 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.” And, as the Globe’s Robyn Doolittle reported yesterday, Melling also commented on LaFlamme’s grey hair, which she’d stopped dyeing during the pandemic to widespread praise. “According to a senior CTV official who was present at the meeting,” Doolittle wrote, “Mr. Melling asked who had approved the decision to ‘let Lisa’s hair go grey.’ [Editor's note: 🤢] The issue of Ms. LaFlamme’s hair colour came up again on set one day, when he noted that it was taking on a purple hue in the studio lighting.” Would Melling have similar qualms about Lloyd Robertson’s grey hair or the fact that, by the time he retired of his own volition at 77, he looked his age? Somehow, I doubt it. (I’m also guessing Melling doesn’t worry about what his own hairline says about his professional ability.)

This is a (seemingly unexpected) PR nightmare for CTV, but worse, it’s a message to women in this industry that their value has an expiration date, and that’s right around the time they start to look their ages. It's also a blow for upcoming journalists, especially young women from marginalized backgrounds. As former TV producer Stephanie Hinds noted on Twitter this week, “how are young women of colour supposed to actively pursue careers in this field when even the most tenured, most respected, WHITE women are pushed out of their positions like this?”

We need to talk about our cultural obsession with youth, especially for women

‎Of course, Melling isn't the only media exec who thinks women need to look youthful. He's just adhering to a problematic but widespread norm among broadcasters. A 2018 study published in Feminist Media Studies found that journalists of all genders tended to be youthful and attractive, but women were expected to adhere to more rigid beauty standards. For example, male journalists were more likely to be fat, have wrinkles, go grey or lose their hair, while female journalists generally did not have the same ‘flaws.’ Women also tended to look much younger than their male counterparts and usually adhered to Eurocentric beauty ideals, regardless of their ethnic background. This isn’t just because of edicts from the higher-ups, either—ask any woman who regularly appears on-camera, either as a broadcaster or a cultural critic, what kind of comments she receives from the general public. They’re horrifying. (To be fair, even Robertson faced criticism from viewers about his greying hair, though CTV execs didn't seem to think it would have any bearing on his journalistic talents.)

And it’s not just journalism; women are expected to look young and pretty for as long as possible in any number of spaces—and if they don’t, there are tangible repercussions, as Jacyln Wong, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of South Carolina, told The Kit this week. “Workplaces are gendered spaces. When [they] reward grooming—including beauty work to ‘look young’—in women, they’re reproducing what it means to be a woman in our society: objects that are nice to look at,” she says. What’s more, “grooming signals individual women’s participation in this system of patriarchal domination. Women can be rewarded for playing by these gender rules, and women who stray from what is considered acceptable presentation can expect to see those rewards withheld.”

‎This is obviously a huge problem in Hollywood, where leading men can age into so-called silver foxes, but roles dry up for women once they can no longer credibly play twentysomethings, with very few exceptions. I’d even argue that the current internet discourse on age plays into these problematic dynamics, albeit unintentionally. I keep seeing people describe how good someone looks by saying they’re ‘aging backwards’ or compliment female celebrities by pretending they look the same, if not better than they did 10, 15 or 20 years earlier. It’s honestly a little bit weird, like they honestly believe women go to bed on the eve of their 30th birthdays and wake up decrepit crones. Worse, these kinds of joking-not-joking statements hint at troubling beliefs about who has value, whose lives are allowed to be meaningful and even who’s worthy of experiencing pleasure or fun. Our societal obsession with women looking young isn’t in any way new, but over the past couple of years, a wide swath of society, or at least the internet, seems to have become incredibly invested in the idea that life is not worth living once you pass 29, and that is very sad. (And also false, obviously.)

The true culprit here is a familiar one: patriarchy

Still, even as I take issue with the way we’re talking about age these days, I want us to focus our ire about LaFlamme where it belongs: on Melling and the other cis white men just like him who overwhelmingly control the way our world works.

So: not on Omar Sachedina, the Ismaili Muslim man who has faced serious, racist abuse this week, all because he got a promotion and adhered to the network’s carefully orchestrated roll-out plan. From (mostly white) women claiming he’s part of Bell Media’s old boys’ club—which I already explained is impossible for men of colour in my newsletter about Danielle Graham’s gender discrimination lawsuit—to people calling him a diversity hire and saying he doesn’t deserve this role, Sachedina is receiving far too much blame considering he’s also a victim of Melling’s machinations. I mean, do you think it’s an accident that CTV News replaced an older woman with a younger man of colour? Or did they maybe understand the optics of that choice all too well?

In fact, CTV’s plan for announcing this news seemed designed to make things harder for everyone—LaFlamme, of course, but also Sachedina, who will need to build a relationship with an audience that has welcomed his predecessor into their homes for decades and likely feels betrayed on her behalf. As Newman explained, “When Lloyd Robertson retired as anchor of CTV National News, it was a six-month transition where Lisa gradually started becoming more familiar to viewers… I honestly feel very badly for Omar Sachedina, who inherits none of that when he fills ‘the chair’ Lisa will never sit in again. He is widely liked and respected within CTV News, and I have no doubt his considerable heart and kindness will carry him far. But the advice (or directives) he seems to have followed to conduct on-air interviews within 20 minutes of shocking viewers with the news of Lisa’s departure was abysmal.”

‎All of which is to say, it’s Melling and his fellow corporate overlords who prioritize youth and docility in their female employees and who happily throw their racialized ones under the bus if they think it’ll help shift blame from themselves. They’re the ones who don’t care about the impact LaFlamme’s firing will have on young women who want to become anchors and who will likely blame Sachedina if audiences don’t tune in out of loyalty, or disgust over CTV’s handling of this situation. And they’re the ones who will get to stick around the longest, with the biggest paycheques and the fewest professional consequences for their missteps.

So, while we’re all justifiably angry at the way LaFlamme was treated and what it says about women’s worth throughout this industry, especially as they age, let’s make sure we’re aiming that ire in the right direction.


OOO Alert

I’m taking a break for the rest of the summer, so there won’t be any newsletters or social media posts for the next couple of weeks. See you in September!


And Did You Hear About…

This extremely accurate take on the discourse around millennial vs. Gen Z internet culture.

Nylah Burton’s thoughtful argument that we shouldn’t be positioning colour-blind casting as a win for representation (with some thoughts from me!).

Hollywood Reporter’s investigation into the sad, confusing last days of the Wendy Williams Show.

Brad Pitt having the same PR rep as Johnny Depp… which feels especially relevant this week.

Scientist and writer Darshana Narayanan’s analysis of bestselling author Yuval Noah Harari’s work—and why you shouldn’t trust what he writes.

Bonus: two interesting/entertaining Twitter threads: first, A League of Their Own showrunner Will Graham’s thread on the real (Black, queer) history of baseball. Second, this thread full of hilarious videos.

Read more posts like this in your inbox

Subscribe to the newsletter

Lisa LaFlamme
Michael Melling
Omar Sachedina