CTV Told to Avoid Negative Coverage of Parent Company Bell

Corporate influence on news coverage is already here. CTV was told to avoid negative coverage of Bell.

One of the common themes throughout the Bill C-18 debate is trust in its journalism. Indeed, many lobbyists talk about how the journalism of their members are of high rigour and free of corporate influence. In fact, during hearings in the House of Commons, some journalism representatives said that if any one advertiser tried to influence their news coverage, they would tell them to “pound sand”.

Of course, thanks to consolidation in the media sector, the pressure to have coverage influenced by corporate interests have already been a fact of life in the sector. In fact, that pressure is coming from within the conglomerates own consolidated structure. Case in point is Bell Media, owner of large news organization, CTV. Reports are surfacing that CTVs parent company, Bell Media, was pressuring CTV journalism staff to put a positive spin on Bell coverage. From The Globe and Mail (probably paywalled):

In the aftermath of last year’s dismissal of CTV anchor Lisa LaFlamme, Bell Media President Wade Oosterman told news managers he wanted a more “balanced perspective” in news coverage and suggested they provide a “positive spin” on stories about parent company Bell Canada Enterprises Inc.

In the same conversation, Mr. Oosterman said CTV journalists should be helpful in reporting on the telecom giant whenever possible, although he stressed that he did not want them to “shill for the corporation. I am not saying to distort reality to help.”

“But for God’s sake, if there is a choice between helping and not helping – help,” he said, using an example of reporting on BCE’s financials.

“We sometimes report results and, you know, our results are flat and our profits was up 8 per cent and there is choice between headlines and we report revenues are flat instead of profits are up 8 per cent. Why would we take that negative spin instead of the positive spin?” he said.

He also described BCE as a “jewel,” and “for the life of me, I cannot figure out why we are so reticent to embrace that.”

Mr. Oosterman’s comments appear to run counter to BCE’s journalistic independence policy that was designed to reinforce “independence and non-interference” between BCE and CTV News. The policy states: “Any interference, whether direct or indirect, actual or perceived, undermines the principles of news independence and can erode the credibility of Bell Media News which is critical to maintaining the trust of our viewers and listeners.”

It’s not real clear if this big ask from the executive was successful or not. After all, CTV did re-publish a wire report on the request to defund local journalism from Bell. However, there was certainly an effort by large media companies in general to push disinformation in the Bill C-18 story. So, it does depend on the story whether corporate influence played a role in the spin put on said story.

Still, some of the concerns surrounding Bill C-18, now the Online News Act, is that the aftermath would be that the platforms would be shelling out so much money that they would have a lot of influence on the news coverage. Sadly, if the platforms did attempt to have an influence on the news coverage, they would be far from the first. If anything, it would only put further pressure on the news rooms in question to try and put a “positive spin” on certain corporations in the coverage.

For any journalism minded people, this scenario should be horrifying. Indeed, it would be one thing if a large advertiser was attempting to influence the news coverage, but it is a much bigger problem when it is a parent company of a corporate super structure like Bell Media attempts to exert influence on the news coverage. The last thing the sector needs is more of the above happening.

(Via @MGeist)

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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