In the wake of LaFlamme’s exit, how effective are independent workplace reviews?
By Adena Ali
As Bell Media undergoes an independent workplace review after the dismissal of Lisa LaFlamme as CTV National News’ chief anchor, one corporate governance expert cautions the move doesn’t guarantee change.
Though an internal review is a move straight from the crisis management playbook, Richard Leblanc says that doesn’t mean it’s a mere public relations stunt. Still, the professor of governance and law at York University says it is possible that Bell Media or any company for that matter could “stifle the process,” in turn rendering the review pointless.
In a social media post Friday, the CEO of BCE Inc., the parent company of Bell Media, said an independent review involving “confidential interviews with all newsroom employees who choose to participate” is underway to address concerns raised about the newsroom’s working environment.
Mirko Bibic said Bell Media’s vice-president of news, Michael Melling, has been the subject of “various allegations” and is on leave pending the outcome of the workplace review. “Any necessary changes that become evident will be implemented swiftly,” Bibic said in the statement.
Transparency critical: CEO
Leblanc says for the review to be effective, transparency is imperative. That includes presenting the findings and conclusions to employees at the end of the process.
“It’s really important that a final report is circulated to employees with employee names redacted for anonymity, so they are able to see that their concerns are shared by others,” he says.
He also says that employees should be encouraged to participate in the confidential interviews and that the third party doing the review should make it easy for employees to come forward.
Clarity and specifics around the methodology and the purpose and scope of the review is “helpful for employees, so that when they bring their concerns forward they feel it will result in concrete recommendations.”
The beside manner of the third party investigators is important, Leblanc notes.
“You should have people who are patient and diversity represented in the interviewers,” he says.
Leblanc expects the review to take several months, likely being completed by the end of the calendar year or early 2023.
Meanwhile, Bell Media has been pushing back against accusations that LaFlamme was ousted because of her age, gender or grey hair. Bibic is “satisfied that this is not the case,” he wrote in the social media post.
Network interference of coverage
The company is also pushing back on allegations that it interfered in the network’s coverage of the fallout.
Wade Oosterman, president of Bell Media, said in a letter published on Twitter Monday that any allegations management breached its journalistic independence policy in covering the LaFlamme story are “outrageous.”
Oosterman’s comments are addressed to human rights lawyer Paul Champ, who submitted a letter to the company on behalf of a “large number” of anonymous CTV News journalists who raised concerns about the circumstances around LaFlamme’s firing and whether it was related to her appearance.
“I would urge your clients to raise their concerns directly with me, and to actively participate in the workplace review that is being conducted independent of management, by a third party,” Oosterman wrote in the letter.
2020 workplace review
CP24 — a Bell Media newsroom in Toronto — underwent a workplace review beginning in 2020 when Melling was general manager, according to two former Bell Media employees who worked for the company at the time. The review centred around allegations of a toxic culture in the workplace, some of which predated Melling’s tenure.
“If you had a review in 2021 and you still have allegations of workplace misconduct, that’s a sign that there’s a systemic pattern here,” Leblanc says.
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