Canada's TV Watchdog Slams Top Network for "Manipulating" News Coverage

Jean-Pierre Blais - H 2015
AP Images

Jean-Pierre Blais - H 2015

The attack followed a report that Bell Media president Kevin Crull stopped network reporters from interviewing CRTC chair Jean-Pierre Blais on-air about a landmark cable unbundling decision.

Canada's TV watchdog on Wednesday blasted broadcaster Bell Media for "manipulating" its news coverage of last week's regulatory decision to launch pick-and-pay cable TV pricing by 2016.

CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais publicly lambasted the media company after a Globe and Mail newspaper report earlier in the day said Bell Media president Kevin Crull told his TV reporters to halt on-air interviews with Blais.

Before last week's CRTC decision, Crull warned that Canada choosing to unbundle cable channels would mean more American programming filling primetime schedules and less coin for local programming north of the border.

"That a regulated company does not like one of the CRTC’s rulings is one thing. The allegation, however, that the largest communication company in Canada is manipulating news coverage is disturbing," Blais said in a statement fired back on Wednesday.

The Globe and Mail report, citing unnamed network sources, alleged Crull rang CTV News president Wendy Freeman last Thursday to order that Blais not appear on-air again after an initial interview on Bell Media's cable news channel. Blais was apparently then pulled from an early-evening interview on CTV political talker Power Play, before CTV chief anchor Lisa LaFlamme and her news staff later ignored Crull's directive and included a clip with Blais on the flagship 11 p.m. national newscast.

Without addressing claims he barred Blais from the company's airwaves, Crull in his own statement said he told CTV News their focus should have been "a broad and necessary discussion of the impacts of the CRTC's decisions on consumers, our team members, and our business."

Crull added that he failed to make clear editorial control remained with CTV News reporters. "I have apologized to the team directly for this mistake," he said.  

The news meddling allegations follow Bell Media parent BCE in recent months going to the Federal Court of Appeals to overturn CRTC decisions to replace local ads with American ones on CTV's annual NFL Super Bowl telecast, and to stop giving smartphone subscribers preferential treatment with a mobile TV app.

Executives at Bell Media were not immediately available for comment.

March 25, 6:30 p.m. Updated with a statement from Bell Media president Kevin Crull.