On August 15th, Lisa LaFlamme, Canadian journalist Chief News Anchor and Senior Editor for CTV National News, publicly announced the abrupt end of her contract with Bell Media’s CTV News.
LaFlamme had a 35-year career with CTV. She describes reporting as “the greatest honour of her life.” However, her career was cut short at 58 years old when Bell Media made a business decision to end her contract on June 29th, 2022.
“At 58, I thought I’d still have a lot more time to tell the stories that impact our daily lives,” said LaFlamme.
In a video posted on her Twitter, LaFlamme says she was “blindsided” by the sudden change and had to keep the specifics of her exit confidential until specifics of her exit were resolved.”
LaFlamme described the video on Twitter as her “sign off” from CTV, titled: I have some news…
The video has since received 4.5 million views prompting many to question the rationale behind Bell Media’s decision to end LaFlamme’s contract.
“Recognizing changing viewer habits, CTV recently advised LaFlamme that it had made the business decision to move its acclaimed news show, CTV NATIONAL NEWS, and the role of its Chief News Anchor in a different direction,” said Bell.
LaFlamme was awarded “Best News Anchor, National” in April by the Canadian Screen Awards and CTV National News was one of Canada’s most popular newscasts regarding ratings.
However, many continue to wonder if LaFlamme’s firing was a matter of ageism or sexism, as she stopped dyeing her hair over the COVID-19 pandemic after the Globe and Mail reported Lisa LaFlamme’ going grey’ was questioned by a CTV executive.
Push for Equity, Diversity, And Inclusion (EDI) in Media
In recent years, there has been a push for increased EDI in the media, as broadcast media and print journalism are traditionally cis-male-dominated industries.
In 2018, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) identified the need for a more inclusive Canadian production industry and asked all Canadian broadcasting companies to provide it with action plans as they advance.
However, “In 2021 the Reuters Institute carried out a survey of 240 media outlets, in 12 markets, and found that only 22% of editors and 40% of journalists were women, although those numbers can vary by market. A study conducted at Carleton University on Canadian media in 2016 found that 71 percent of persons quoted in Canadian media were men,” said Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences Instructor, Dr. Lori Lee Oates.
Additionally, Oates says, “We’ve known for some time because of the work of political scientists like Elizabeth Goodyear-Grant that news coverage is gendered. This has an impact on how women politicians are covered for example, and actually impacts whether women run or get elected. So, we have mostly men covering our male dominated institutions, talking to other men about those institutions, and covering them in ways that mostly serve the interests of men.”
Lisa LaFlamme’s drop from CTV prompted significant discussion online, with CTV National viewers, colleagues, activists, and other Canadian journalists speaking out.
Freelance Journalist, Elizabeth Whitten, says, “I was really surprised when I saw the news on Twitter. She’s one of the most recognizable and respected news anchors in the country. And there she was in a two-minute video saying Bell Media had axed her due to a “business decision.” I was alarmed how she’d been told to keep the news to herself for several weeks before Bell broke the news. Her video was especially upsetting compared to the press release Bell Media sent out to announce it that framed it as a mutual parting of ways.”
Juanita Mercer, Legislative Reporter with The St. John’s Telegram also spoke of her reaction.
“I was shocked to see a trusted, professional, intelligent journalist of her calibre saying farewell to her loyal viewers via social media instead of on-air,” said Mercer.
However, LaFlamme is not the first journalist to experience abrupt ends to an employment contract.
Lynn Burry, a host of the NTV Evening Newshour from 1993- 2019, spoke to the CBC about her reaction to LaFlamme’s situation with CTV News.
Burry said, “the entire situation could have been handled better.” She also mentioned that her exit from NTV was not her choice either, and “these things happen.”
While the specifics of LaFlamme’s firing remain unknown, people have speculated that the abrupt end of her contract was due to sexism, ageism, and disrespect.
Juanita Mercer commented on the disrespect many female journalists encounter in the media industry.
“Shortly after I finished journalism school, I was considering taking a job at a small-town newspaper outside the province. When I spoke with the owner, he explained the pay was pretty low, but his rationale was that most people he hired were women whose partners had high-paying oil sector jobs. Needless to say, I didn’t take the job.”
The Importance of Women in Media
The International Women’s Media Foundation believes that “when reporting is dominated by men, so is the content.” As a result, “the media is not truly free and representative without the equal voice of women.”
Juanita Mercer spoke of this importance.
“I think it is vital for newsrooms to be diverse, and I think having women and gender diverse individuals represented in various roles at media organisations, including in leadership roles, is an important part of that,” said Mercer.
Whitten believes “having women in the media is absolutely essential” but explained that “women are still faced with more scrutiny over their appearance than their male colleagues.”
Therefore, “It means a lot to see a woman at the helm of a national news program or reporting from abroad on tense, political situations. For so long, those positions weren’t attainable. But we’re seeing that even if women can get into these coveted roles, they’re not given the same opportunities or careers as their male colleagues,” said Whitten.
Meanwhile, Dr. Lori Lee Oates spoke of the importance of women in the media by acknowledging Juanita Mercer.
“The pay equity story wouldn’t have gotten the coverage it did without Juanita Mercer.”
“Pay equity, a living wage, police violence, patriarchy in the courts, climate change and how it disproportionately impacts women, domestic violence that is 20% above the national average are all problems in NL that receive insufficient coverage,” said Oates.
Advice to upcoming female and gender-diverse journalists
While the firing of Lisa LaFlamme can be discouraging for female and gender-diverse individuals hoping to pursue journalism, many media outlets are working to improve their EDI.
For instance, the CBC released their 2022-2025 EDI plan called, Progress in Progress in December 2021.
Progress in Progress is committed to choosing EDI, having content for all, changing the CBC’s workforce to reflect Canada, connecting with underrepresented communities, and ensuring straightforward communications.
Journalists Elizabeth Whitten and Juanita Mercer advised those wishing to pursue journalism.
Whitten encourages upcoming journalists to “start putting money aside as a rainy-day fund so you can afford to leave a job you’re unhappy with,” as journalism is a “challenging industry to be in, due to a number of factors. The pay can be low, hours long, and stability can be precarious. Even from the start of your career, there are discrepancies; many journalism programs still require internships and those spots are mostly unpaid. So like many fields, it means people with more financial resources have more opportunities (like being able to afford to work for a month with no income). Women are still paid less on average. Someone once told me an often quoted bit of advice; “if you can do anything else, do that over journalism.”
Meanwhile, Mercer says, “As disheartening as it is for women collectively, to take in the news about senior, exceptional journalists leaving the business not because they chose to, but because of a ‘business decision,’ I hope it doesn’t discourage other women and girls from pursuing journalism.”
Mercer calls journalism a “rewarding career that gives you a chance to make a difference in the world. Is it tough? You bet. But we’re tough, too.”