“It’s not my choice.” A TV presenter in Canada is ousted and viewers ask: was sexism to blame?

From a makeshift studio and with the measured tone of a newscaster, one of Canada’s most familiar faces shocked viewers, created a public relations disaster at a national broadcaster and sparked intense conversations about how which employers treat women as they age.

She did so with a polite and unexpected farewell.

“I guess that’s my CTV signature,” news anchor Lisa LaFlamme said in a video that heralded the abrupt end to her 35-year career with the network.

She said the decision was made by Bell Media, the company that owns CTV, not her. The company made “a ‘business decision’ to end my contract,” she said, adding that she was “blindsided” by the call.

LaFlamme said it was “crushing to leave CTV National News in a way that is not my choice.”

In the two weeks since the video was posted online, LaFlamme, 58, has inspired a huge outpouring of support, with many women speaking out about their own difficult experiences at work.

The video also generated a steady drumbeat of outrage over Bell Media’s treatment of LaFlamme, a veteran journalist whose resume includes warzone reporting, the latest national news anchor award and more. a decade as chief anchor of Canada’s most-watched nighttime news show.

Neither LaFlamme nor Bell Media described the specific reasons for his dismissal. But viewers, fellow journalists, former government officials and celebrities were quick to come to their own conclusions, accusing Bell Media of “shameful” and “shoddy” conduct, with some speculating factors like sexism were at play. ‘work.

After a Globe and Mail report, citing an unnamed CTV official, said an executive questioned LaFlamme’s decision to stop dyeing his hair and letting it turn gray, Canadian branches of ‘companies such as Wendy’s and Dove, in a move toward anchor, have turned their brand gray.

On Friday night, Bell Media CEO Mirko Bibic pushed back against the charges but said he would not release details of the case due to an agreement with LaFlamme.

“The narrative was that Lisa’s age, gender or gray hair played into the decision,” Bibic said in a statement posted on LinkedIn. “I am convinced that is not the case and I wanted to make sure that you heard it from me. Although I would like to say more about Bell Media’s decision, we are bound by an agreement of mutual separation negotiated with Lisa, which we will continue to honor.”

He said an executive, whom some viewers criticized for being fired, had been placed on furlough “effective immediately”, pending the findings of a workplace review. The review, he said, will be independent and will seek to “address concerns raised about the work environment” in the newsroom.

In response to an email, a Bell spokesperson said, “We won’t be answering any further questions about this.” LaFlamme could not immediately be reached for comment.

Bibic’s message did nothing to quell the growing anger over LaFlamme’s departure.

Over the weekend, a former prime minister, Kim Campbell, joined singers Sarah McLachlan and Anne Murray and other high-profile Canadians in condemning the firing, saying Bell had “confirmed a sad truth: even after all the progress women have made, they continue to face sexism and ageism in the workplace every day.

In its initial statement on LaFlamme, Bell Media said its decision was driven by “changing viewing habits,” without giving further details. In a later statement, the company said CTV “regrets that the manner in which the news of her departure was delivered may have left viewers with the wrong impression of how CTV views Lisa.”

In that statement, Wade Oosterman, the company’s president, and Karine Moses, a senior vice president, announced “an independent internal review of our newsroom by an independent third party.” The leaders said they take “matters regarding any discrimination very seriously and are committed to creating a safe, inclusive and respectful work environment for all of our employees, free from any toxic behaviour”.

The layoff of LaFlamme, who was quite possibly one of the newsroom’s highest-paid employees, followed a torrent of layoffs and budget cuts to CTV’s network and local news operations over the past seven years, which were made despite government aid to media outlets. As in the United States, the Internet and years of slumping advertising revenues have left many Canadian news organizations in dire financial straits. Furloughed executive Michael Melling had overseen recent layoffs and cuts at CTV.

Although some have speculated that LaFlamme’s firing was linked to journalism’s financial crisis, most conversations have focused on a deep-rooted issue that extends far beyond the news industry. : gender discrimination. Many reporters and viewers noted that two longtime male anchors before LaFlamme, one at CTV and the other at another major broadcaster, were able to retire at ages 69 and 77 and both were able to make their farewell to the antenna.

“The media landscape has obviously been quite turbulent over the past few years: we’ve seen a lot of layoffs and replacements of presenters and presenter teams,” said Sylvia Fuller, a sociologist at the University of British Columbia who studies inequalities in the labor market. . “But no one of that stature, and no one of that stature in a way that leaving was not highly handled.”

Amanda Watson, a sociologist at Simon Fraser University who studies media, said LaFlamme’s dismissal resonated with many people because it spoke to the problem of economic insecurity – the risk of losing a job despite a significant success over a long career – and because of the anchor’s gender and age.

“Women were scared to see this, and also angry, because it’s a fear we all have,” she said. Many women, she said, ask, “Wow, if that could happen to her, how could it not happen to me in my low-key job?”

LaFlamme was widely hailed when she stopped dyeing her hair in 2020, a move many called laudable in the face of the double standards women face in their workplace appearances. In a year-end special, LaFlamme said that after being unable to visit her stylist during the pandemic, she “finally said, ‘Why bother? I turn grey. Honestly, if I had known lockdown could be so liberating on that front, I would have done it much sooner.

Fuller said the decision to let her hair turn gray was a way of signaling that “you don’t have to live up to social expectations anymore. Your age and your experience must be read as a gravity, as a power.

Stacy Lee Kong, a journalist and cultural critic who writes a weekly newsletter, Friday Things, said: “It was also very powerful to see someone in such an image-bound industry make the decision to change their hair. in this way. I know it sounds superficial, and it sounds silly, but there’s a lot going on in our hair, and there’s a lot going on going gray.

LaFlamme was at the top of his profession, having interviewed heads of state and reported on countries in conflict and disaster-stricken cities, including post-9/11 Iraq and Afghanistan; New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. She has covered the Olympics, royal weddings and the deaths of leaders like Fidel Castro and Pope John Paul II. In 2020, she won a lifetime achievement award.

Watson said her career could be compared to that of Katie Couric, who was the first woman to be the sole anchor of a major evening news program in the United States.

Largely overshadowed by controversy, CTV this month named national correspondent Omar Sachedina to replace LaFlamme, an announcement many hailed on his own terms. “A Muslim at the head of the biggest national news program – history,” tweeted Global News reporter Ahmar Khan. “But diversity does not cover the shortcomings of abuse.

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