The furor over Bell Media President Kevin Crull’s banning of CRTC Chair Jean Pierre Blais from CTV news coverage following the pick-and-pay decision made for a remarkable news day yesterday. From the initial Globe report to the unprecedented response from Blais to the Crull apology, it was a head-spinning day. While Bell presumably hopes that the apology brings the matter to a close, that seems unlikely to be the case as there are bigger implications for Crull, CTV News, and Bell more broadly.
Crull’s future has been the subject of much talk, with some calling for his resignation, particularly since there is evidence that this is not the first instance of the editorial interference. Assuming it has occurred before (the reference to “re-learning” in the Crull apology is telling), CEO George Cope was undoubtedly aware of the practice and must surely have condoned it, suggesting that Crull will survive. However, Crull’s bigger problem may be that his ability to represent Bell Media before the CRTC has been irreparably damaged. Bell could have Cope represent the company rather than Crull (indicating the seriousness of the issues), but Crull will struggle as the public face of the company before the regulator for as long as Blais remains chair.
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The Globe and Mail’s James Bradshaw reports that Bell Media President Kevin Crull banned CTV media properties from including CRTC Chair Jean Pierre Blais in coverage of the recent TalkTV decisions. The report indicates that Crull ordered the head of CTV News to stop including Blais in coverage following an interview on BNN, which led to the cancellation of an interview with Don Martin and dropping him from local news stories (he was included in the national newscast as Robert Fife defied the order). Bell Media has still not publicly commented on the pick-and-pay decision. Crull is the same Bell executive who earlier this month called for the blocking of U.S. channels and for new measures to make it more difficult for Canadians to access U.S. Netflix.
I would say the story is shocking, but this is not the first time of reports that Crull has meddled in news coverage related to his company. In August 2013, Dwayne Winseck reported that Crull intervened on coverage of the wireless sector when Verizon was considering entry into the Canadian market. Winseck posted emails from Crull to news executives throughout CBC urging certain coverage of a wireless report throughout Bell Media’s television and radio stations. I wrote about Winseck’s story here.
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Kevin Crull, Bell Media’s President delivered a much-anticipated keynote speech at the Prime Time in Ottawa conference on Friday. Titled “The New Reality: Broadcasting in Canada”, Crull’s claim was that the new reality for broadcasting in Canada is unsustainable and requires massive regulatory change. While Crull argued that Bell doesn’t want protection (in fact, incredibly claimed that a company that has benefited from foreign investment restrictions, genre protection, and simultaneous substitution has never had protection), he proceeded to outline a series of radical reforms that would raise television fees, block access to U.S. channels, violate net neutrality rules, and make Netflix less attractive to consumers. Couched in terms of “level playing fields” and “secure rights markets”, the speech was fundamentally an admission that given the competitive challenges, Bell’s hope is for a regulatory overhaul.
The key slide within the presentation can be found here. Crull certainly spoke about creating great content, though on the previous day Bell executives cautioned against programs that are “too Canadian.” The major focus of Crull’s talk wasn’t on content creation – the overwhelming majority of Bell Media’s leading programs are licensed from U.S. broadcasters – but rather on proposed changes to the regulatory framework.
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Carleton professor Dwayne Winseck has posted a bombshell report that uncovers editorial interference at Bell with Bell Media President Kevin Crull issuing directives to CTV and company-owned local television and radio channels to provide favourable coverage of the wireless issue just as the incumbent campaign against Verizon was ramping up in early July. Winseck posts details on internal company emails that indicate Crull sent the message to provide coverage on the CRTC-sponsored Wall Report:
Kevin Crull our President wants us to give this report some coverageâ€¦.â€ and â€œKevin is asking if this report can get some coverage today on Talk Radio. National news is covering for TVâ€.
As I posted on the same day as the emails, the Wall Report actually found that Canada falls on the high side of wireless pricing among the countries surveyed. Yet Crull was looking for different talking points from Bell’s media properties. As Winseck notes:
The emails begin by setting out a couple of definitional issues and then distill the two key talking points to be covered: (1) that cellphone rates in Canada have fallen in recent years and (2) that they are generally cheaper than in the US.
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