Shortly after Michael Melling became head of CTV News, he raised questions about host Lisa LaFlamme’s hair.
According to a senior CTV official who was present at the meeting, Mr. Melling asked who had approved the decision to “let Lisa’s hair go grey.” 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.
Later, Mr. Melling would be the one to tell Ms. LaFlamme that she was being ousted from her role as anchor of CTV National News, one of the country’s most-watched newscasts – an unexpected removal that she announced earlier this week. Ms. LaFlamme had been in the job since 2011 and with the network for 35 years, and still had just under two years left on her contract. In 2020, she made headlines and won praise from women across the country when she decided to stop dyeing her hair and let her natural silver locks grow out.
She explained the decision in the network’s year-in-review special, saying that because of the pandemic she couldn’t visit her hair colourist and was having to spray her roots every day before going on air. “I finally said, ‘why bother? I’m going grey.’ Honestly, if I had known the lockdown could be so liberating on that front I would have done it a lot sooner.”
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Ms. LaFlamme’s sudden ouster has prompted anger, confusion and speculation within CTV. The Globe spoke with three current staff members at the company. Two said they had observed tensions between Mr. Melling and Ms. LaFlamme, as well as between him and the show’s executive producer, Rosa Hwang. The Globe is not naming the staff members because they were not authorized to speak.
Mr. Melling and Ms. LaFlamme clashed over stories, network priorities and resources – most visibly when it came to coverage of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee and the war in Ukraine.
Mr. Melling and CTV declined to comment. Ms. LaFlamme directed The Globe to a video statement she posted on Twitter earlier this week.
In that two-minute clip, Ms. LaFlamme said that, on June 29, she was told that Bell Media, CTV’s parent company, had made a “business decision” to terminate her contract. She added that she was asked to keep this information confidential until the details of her exit were worked out.
“I was blindsided and I’m still shocked and saddened by Bell Media’s decision,” she said. “At 58, I still thought I’d have a lot more time to tell more of the stories that impact our daily lives. Instead, I leave CTV humbled by the people who put their faith in me to tell their story.”
One of the newscast’s staff members recalled an argument that took place around the time of the start of the war in Ukraine. The network was sending a crew to the country to cover the Russian invasion. Ms. LaFlamme advocated for CTV to book hotel rooms in Krakow, Poland, in case the crew members needed to retreat quickly from Ukraine. Mr. Melling raised concerns about the cost. After a protracted argument, the rooms were booked.
Later, when it came time to arrange coverage of Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee celebration in June, there was again a fight about money.
One staff member recalled Mr. Melling saying sending a crew to Britain wasn’t worth the expense. “Michael said, ‘We’re not going. Cancel. It’s not worth it. Let’s cover it from Toronto,’” the staff member recalled.
“We have to cover the Queen! She’s Canada’s Queen too,” the staff member remembered Ms. LaFlamme saying. “The plan had already been set about the coverage and conversations already took place with our broadcast partners in the U.K.”
After more arguments, a scaled-down team was allowed to make the trip, but they had to forfeit a pricey shooting location near Buckingham Palace. Instead, they covered the jubilee from a hotel balcony in Trafalgar Square, which was significantly cheaper, but farther from the event.
In a video released via Twitter on Monday, CTV National News anchor Lisa LaFlamme said Bell Media informed her on June 29 of the "business decision" to end her contract. LaFlamme had worked for the network for 35 years.
The Globe and Mail
Disputes over resources and news priorities are not uncommon in newsrooms, the staff member said, but what was unusual in this case was the tone of the discussions.
Mr. Melling did not respond well to pushback from Ms. LaFlamme and Ms. Hwang, the source said.
Under Mr. Melling’s predecessor, Wendy Freeman, there were frequent debates about coverage, the source said, and there was always mutual respect because Ms. Freeman was viewed as a journalist. But Mr. Melling is viewed as a Bell executive more concerned with the business side of CTV.
“Traditionally, that role [head of CTV news] is supposed to be the top journalist in the newsroom,” the staff member said.
Another staff member said Mr. Melling is rarely seen walking around the newsroom.
Mr. Melling joined Bell Media in 2003 as an editorial assistant at BNN Bloomberg. According to his LinkedIn profile, he spent five years as a reporter, before becoming a news director in Southwestern Ontario in 2010. From there, he quickly ascended through the management ranks, with five more promotions in a decade. Prior to taking over from Ms. Freeman, who had held the top role for 12 years, Mr. Melling was the general manager of CTV News Toronto, CP24 and BNN Bloomberg. He also holds an MBA from Wilfrid Laurier University, according to his LinkedIn.
Staff members said Ms. LaFlamme and Ms. Hwang were tough and at times very demanding, but that they were also respected, professional and made sure everyone had a chance to voice their opinion.
CTV employees and members of the public have raised questions about whether ageism and sexism could have played roles in Ms. LaFlamme’s exit. In interviews, staff members complained about the fact that, so far, CTV has not addressed her departure.
The Globe obtained a portion of a draft memo that is slated to be sent to the newsroom on Thursday. In the note, an unidentified network executive addresses a sore point for many: that Ms. LaFlamme was not given an on-air send-off and celebration, like her predecessor, Lloyd Robertson.
The memo says Ms. LaFlamme was given an opportunity to “come back into the studio and have her career at CTV be appropriately celebrated.” It adds that after Ms. LaFlamme was informed of the decision to end her contract, she was allowed to continue to work and did cover the recent papal visit.
“She opted to not say goodbye to the public during a CTV National newscast,” the memo says. “While I wish things had been different, I also respect her decision.”
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