Peak Communicators
March 26, 2015

Heads Must Roll Over Interference in Objective News Coverage at CTV

Bell Media CEO Kevin Crull has to go. Wendy Freeman, president of CTV News, must go too.

How can viewers of Canada’s largest private broadcaster have confidence in this news source when the owner dictates how news is covered and the head of news allowed it fearing for her job? In an unprecedented statement from Canada’s broadcast regulator, the CEO of Bell Media which owns CTV was lambasted for meddling in news coverage.

Crull has apologized for interfering in CTV’s coverage of the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission’s decision to allow less expensive cable and satellite TV ‘pick and pay’ options which could impact Bell Media’s bottom line.

An obviously enraged Crull banned CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais from all CTV news coverage after he saw him interviewed on Bell-owned BNN, a business television channel.

Fearing for the loss of her job, CTV News chief Wendy Freeman caved in and allowed the manipulation until more ballsy news people in her organization gathered ranks and put Blais on the late news. But Freeman’s waffling and giving up editorial control under pressure let down all those who work in CTV newsrooms across the country.

Real reporters put their jobs on the line when told how to cover news or to leave out elements that balance coverage. They push back harder when their own management tries to influence what should be fair and objective news coverage for commercial interests.

Crull’s weak mea culpa explanation of how he was merely suggesting coverage that showed the impact of the CRTC decision, apparently without the CRTC chairman’s input, is not enough.

Enlightened Canadians will wonder what other news stories have been ‘shaped’ by CTV’s ownership. What credibility does CTV News have now?

Years ago, I was one of three reporters who strongly protested a decision by the television station president who blocked coverage of a lawsuit launched by disgruntled contestants of a game show produced there.

We told him this could never happen again and pointed out the damage that could be done to the station’s reputation as well as our professional reputations. To my knowledge, there was no further meddling.

That was immediate action with a strong statement to maintain independence and objectivity in reporting news. Bell Media and CTV also have to make the strongest statement possible to regain and retain credibility. That can only be done with the removal of those who don’t uphold these principles.

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January 9, 2015

Reporting and PR Do Not Mix

I was in the media for more than 30 years and the first rule is PR and journalism don’t mix. If you want to do PR, you leave journalism. Simple.

In 2011, I was a consumer reporter at CTV and was offered a job as Premier Christy Clark’s press secretary.

When I accepted the position I told CTV immediately, even though the job didn’t start for two weeks, and that brought my TV career to an abrupt end. My story for that night was cancelled; I was allowed to thank all the great people I worked with, clean out my desk and record a 20 second thank you to viewers.

I offered to continue to work off-air for two weeks before I started with government, to assist a new reporter stepping into my old role and CTV politely declined. Its rules were strict and I applaud them.

At CTV, we signed a document which spelled out potential conflicts and the consequences which were dire and immediate. All CTV personnel knew the rules and many like me made career choices.

It appears Toronto Global TV anchor and executive editor Leslie Roberts didn’t make that difficult choice.

According to a Toronto Star investigation, Roberts is the co-owner and creative director of a Toronto PR company BuzzPR and some BuzzPR clients appeared on his show. The Star disclosed Roberts tweeted about some clients to his more than 19 thousand followers and other clients appeared in Global news stories produced by other reporters. In fairness, some of those clients also got stories on other TV stations, which legitimizes their news value.

Global news has suspended Roberts indefinitely while it investigates the allegations.

Roberts’ says he never received direct payment from any client for appearing on his newscasts and never took a salary from BuzzPR, but those clients did pay BuzzPR of which he is a part-owner. He told The Star he went to BuzzPR everyday and conducted media training for clients and helped write media pitches. He told The Star he is resigning from Buzz PR effective immediately.

Global viewers trust the news they see. Primarily they trust that there is a separation between the journalist and businesses or guests featured on news programs. They trust that the people they see interviewed, particularly those playing an “expert” role, are chosen for what they know and not who they know.

How would those viewers have felt if full disclosure had been made such as “my next guest is an expert in widgets and his widget firm is a client of the public relations company of which I am a part-owner and creative director.”

Critics of the media have often charged that advertisers or others use their financial clout to influence the news. In my experience those critics are wrong. I was never prevented from doing any story that positioned an advertiser in a bad light. On occasion, my stories in radio and TV cost my employers a good client and a lot of money, but as an old boss at CKNW used to tell businesses “buying advertising is not news insurance.”

Also no sales person ever suggested to me that I should do a story on a particular business that was an advertiser. We kept sales and news separate. Roberts is a veteran award-winning journalist. He should have known that what he was doing at the very least had the appearance of a conflict of interest.

If we accept his word that at no time did he cross a line, that he was surprised when BuzzPR clients appeared on his show or elsewhere on Global news and that he had nothing to do with those appearances, that still does not explain other findings of The Star investigation: his tweets supporting BuzzPR clients and an apparent positive ad-lib on air about a client with a coupon app.

In my opinion, Roberts had a duty to viewers to disclose any conflicts and he failed in that duty.

Back in September reporter Charlo Greene  of KTVA-TV in Alaska famously quit live on air as she disclosed she was the owner of a medical marijuana business, Alaska Cannabis Club, which she had just finished doing a story on.

Greene’s conflict is direct, Roberts’ is one step removed. Both are serious, in my opinion. Roberts’ credibility as a journalist has been irreparably harmed. I fear the reputations of his clients may be in danger of being tarnished as well because the public may wonder if the reason they got airtime was because of the Roberts connection. That would be unfortunate.

Read the full story Star story here

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September 3, 2013

BC Living: People’s Choice 2013

Edownload (19)very year, BC Living, a publication that focuses on West Coast life, polls its readers to find out what is considered ‘best in class’ in our region.

BC Living separates respondents into four regions: Vancouver & Lower Mainland, Vancouver Island, Interior BC & Northern BC.

The poll quizzes people on many aspects of West Coast living: favourite coffee shop (in my opinion 49thParallel wins hands down and I’m delighted to see the broader Vancouver population agrees), the best patio (The Boathouse Restaurant), best desserts (Thomas Haas Chocolates & Patisserie) etc. The list goes on.

The most interesting is the ‘Best Local Media Personality’ category. The results from Vancouver & Lower Mainland region – all of which are TV personalities – are listed below:

  • Winner: Tamara Taggart, CTV
  • 1st Runner Up: Sophie Lui, Global BC
  • 2nd Runner Up: Squire Barnes, Global BC

It’s great to see two female TV personalities make this list, highlighting the gender shift over the years in the news room.

I also took a peek at the results from the other three regions polled. Outside of the lower mainland, radio personalities were a much bigger hit. The ‘Best Local Media Personality’ according to the readers from Vancouver Island are listed below:

  • Winner: Hudson Mack, CTV Vancouver Island
  • 1st Runner Up: Ed Bain, The Q!
  • 2nd Runner Up: Bruce Williams, CTV Vancouver Island

The ‘Best Local Media Personality’ according to the readers from the Interior:

  • Winner: Brian Martin, Sun FM
  • 1st Runner Up: Mark Jeffries, EZ Rock
  • 2nd Runner Up: Toby Tannas, CHBC News

The ‘Best Local Media Personality’ according to readers from Northern BC:

  • Winner: Betsy Trumpener, CBC
  • 1st Runner Up: Mike Benny, 101.3 The River
  • 2nd Runner Up: Dale Taylor, 97.5 The Rush

This kind of poll is extremely valuable. As a PR, it’s important to know what personalities resonate in different regions. We often organize events and invite local personalities to host; knowing who resonates with which audience ensures we identify the best person for the job. Thank you BC Living for conducting and collating this insightful data!

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