Fired for going grey

September 25, 2022

From the September-October 2022 issue of News & Letters

Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada—Privately owned Canadian TV network CTV and its corporate parent Bell Media have faced withering condemnation from around the country after abruptly firing long-time news anchor Lisa LaFlamme in mid-contract. When it surfaced that her corporate boss had been personally offended by LaFlamme letting her hair go grey, the existing public outcry grew fiercer.

Over 150,000 people signed petitions to reinstate her and prominent Canadian artists, politicians and musicians demanded that CTV make things right.

The pushback from the public against their “business decision” to “go in another direction” had to be a surprise to Bell Media. After all, modern media companies treat TV news as a profit center not unlike the entertainment division, where appearance and popularity ratings are closely monitored, and the faces the public sees seem to come and go arbitrarily.

But in a news reader, the appearance of integrity is a part of the brand. LaFlamme’s predecessor as anchor, Lloyd Robertson, retired at 77 in 2011 after 27 years in the job, and Walter Cronkite left the CBS anchor job at 65. Lisa LaFlamme by contrast is being pushed out at 58!

Older workers and women workers who don’t have the public watching when they get fired can relate: They know their bosses, while relying on their experience, still look to replace them. Experienced union teachers with bonuses for seniority and advanced degrees have a target on their backs, and veteran factory workers with aching backs close to a pension are right to feel nervous.

And women workers experiencing sexual harassment and losing jobs arbitrarily, or discriminated against over pregnancy leave, is too common to surprise anyone.

When Dove and Wendy’s and Sports Illustrated began trolling CTV with grey hair themes, one executive was given a leave of absence to ride out the storm. Yet even after that, management censored their news division’s reporting on Lisa LaFlamme, undermining the network’s integrity for a long time.

—Bob McGuire

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