Michael Melling, the vice-president of news at Bell Media, is taking a leave effective immediately, after two weeks of tumult around his role in the dismissal of marquee anchor Lisa LaFlamme.
Mr. Melling’s departure comes after CTV News journalists sent a letter to Bell Canada’s top executives expressing a lack of confidence in Mr. Melling’s leadership.
In a memo sent to staff Friday evening, Karine Moses, Bell Media’s senior vice-president of content development and news, said Mr. Melling was making the decision to spend time with his family.
“His decision reflects our shared desire to support the newsroom and do what’s best to help the team move past the current circumstances to focus on delivering the stories that matter to Canadians,” she wrote.
However, later Friday evening, Bell Canada CEO Mirko Bibic put out a statement saying that Mr. Melling “is on leave effective immediately, pending the outcome of the workplace review that is proceeding.”
Richard Gray, who is the regional general manager for the Eastern Region, will become the acting vice-president of news.
Last week, The Globe revealed that shortly after Mr. Melling assumed the role of head of CTV News in January, 2022, he raised questions about who had approved the decision to “let Lisa’s hair go grey,” according to a senior CTV official who was present at the meeting.
In a statement sent to The Globe on Friday, Mr. Melling said this was “categorically untrue.” The Globe also reported on tensions between Mr. Melling and Ms. LaFlamme over newsroom priorities, story coverage and resources. (Mr. Melling did not specifically address allegations of tensions with Ms. LaFlamme in his statement, but complained that “serious and damaging anonymous allegations about me have been made or published in recent days that are categorically not true.”)
News broke that Ms. LaFlamme was leaving the show she had helmed for more than a decade nearly two weeks ago, when the long-time anchor posted a video to Twitter announcing her contract had been terminated for a “business decision.”
In the days that followed, the story spiralled into a national outrage. Brands such as Dove and Wendy’s released ad campaigns in support of women going grey. Ms. LaFlamme had earned praise from women across Canada when she decided to stop dyeing her hair early in the pandemic.
In response to the uproar, Mr. Melling and Ms. Moses held a joint town hall meeting. The following day, the company announced it would be conducting an independent third-party review. But staff raised concerns about the scope of that review. It was unclear which newsrooms would be involved and whether it would be focused on the national show exclusively or broader questions about toxic culture within the organization, including in management.
Mr. Bibic, in his statement, said that age, gender or grey hair did not play into the decision to let Ms. LaFlamme go, adding that he cannot say more about why. “While I would like to say more on the Bell Media decision, we are bound by a mutual separation agreement negotiated with Lisa, which we will continue to honour,” he said.
On Monday, journalists within the CTV newsroom, through human rights lawyer Paul Champ, sent a letter to Mr. Bibic, the company’s board of directors and Wade Oosterman, the president of Bell Media, raising concerns about Mr. Melling.
A copy of this letter was obtained by The Globe.
In a cover note from Mr. Champ, the lawyer says that he was acting for “a large number of CTV News journalists who have serious concerns about the recent dismissal of Chief Anchor Lisa LaFlamme and the toxic work culture that has developed at CTV over the past eight months.”
Mr. Champ wrote that these journalists had concerns about “denigrating comments and adverse treatment in the workplace, with intimidation and reprisal being a common response to any who question the decision-making or processes of the new Vice-President of CTV News.” Because of the deteriorating workplace culture and fear of reprisal, the letter writers have chosen to remain anonymous, it continued. The letter is signed “Members of the CTV News family.”
The journalists gave the executives and Bell’s board one week to respond to their demands.
The letter reads: “We are a group of concerned CTV News journalists reaching out to you through an intermediary. Professional retaliation has become a significant risk in the news division in the last eight months, so it is necessary for us to shield our identities. It is hoped that once you’ve read the contents of this letter, you will take immediate action.”
It states that they believed the removal of Ms. LaFlamme as anchor was unfair and rooted in “personal malice,” rather than any business-related reasons. The signatories were concerned her age may have been a prejudicial factor. It also raised concerns about Mr. Melling’s lack of experience in national and international news.
“In the eight months Mr. Melling has been head of news, morale has suffered enormously and now with the upheaval of Lisa’s dismissal, the reputation and well-earned credibility of CTV News is also at serious risk,” it reads. “To conclude: we have no confidence in Mr. Melling’s ability to lead the news division.”
Mr. Melling began his career with CTV in 2003 as an editorial assistant and was soon working as an on-air reporter in the Kitchener market. He spent five years as a reporter before moving into management and from there rapidly ascending through the ranks.
In May, 2019, about five months into his job as general manager of CP24 and CTV News Toronto, Mr. Melling announced “Project Innovation.” It was in part through this initiative that he developed a reputation internally as “The Cutter.”
According to a written summary of the project announcement meeting, which was viewed by The Globe, Mr. Melling told staff that “conventional revenue is sliding” and the company needed to make a massive push into digital, and to “control costs as we transform.” Going forward, most positions would no longer exist as people knew them. Staff would need to reapply for a smaller number of jobs with expanded duties. Reporters would need to shoot video. Staff on the tech-side would need to write. There would be three weeks of extensive training and then applications would open for the new roles. A number of staff were laid off. Morale plummeted in the newsroom.
While Mr. Melling did not respond to questions from The Globe about Project Innovation, he recently discussed the initiative at a media panel.
“I think the message we tried to relay was, we have your back and we want you with us on this journey and we want to upscale you for the future,” he said. “Just to give you some context, I mean, three years ago we were last in digital at CTV Toronto but No. 1 in television. Within a year, we were No. 1 in digital. So it worked.”
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