Did Bell Media just try to buy my silence?
Part two of a five-part series on my departure from iHeartRadio/Bell Media
Bell Media is an audacious corporation. Arrogant, even.
Two weeks after Bell Media/iHeartRadio fired me from my job as radio host in January 2022, I received an email from a senior Bell employee. The email was not from the familiar human resources consultant who had been contacting me since I was let go. The sender's name was new.
Intrigued, I read through the email and learned that Bell was offering me a "paid opportunity" to write columns for CTV News, which is one of the company’s media properties.
At first, I was puzzled by Bell making such an offer without acknowledging our very serious disagreements concerning diversity and inclusion. It's weird, right? Similar to an ex-girlfriend texting about meeting up, but not mentioning why she dumped you two weeks earlier.
Then I thought some more about just who and what I'm dealing with. This is Bell Media. Why on earth would I expect any self-reflection or contrition from the same company that fired hundreds of staff last year, just days after promoting itself as a champion for mental health? It's totally possible that Bell believed a "paid opportunity" would be enough for me to put my dignity aside, and keep my mouth shut about what occurred while I was an employee in their radio division.
In response to Bell’s offer, I made clear that I still hoped to discuss the real reasons why iHeartRadio/Bell Media fired me. My email stated: “If Bell Media is willing and able to address the concerns I previously shared with senior management, I’d be open to additional dialogue. However, until those concerns are addressed, I cannot, as a self-respecting black man, consider returning to any professional arrangement with Bell Media.” I concluded with “I look forward to your reply.”
You can probably guess what happened next. The senior Bell employee never did reply. The company once again refused to acknowledge the real reasons I was terminated.
Bell’s non-response casts serious doubt on whether their “paid opportunity” was ever a good faith offer. I believe it was just a failed ploy to buy my silence about iHeartRadio.
Changing our approach to media criticism
I hope that in reading about my most recent exchange with Bell, you may see a persuasive example of why we need to shift our approach to media criticism away from individual journalists and toward mainstream media corporations. These corporations are audacious and arrogant, exercising power without concern over public criticism over their business practices. Their on-air employees are visible, but managers and executives lurk behind the scenes.
If you're a consumer of Bell Media, for instance, you're probably familiar with broadcasters like Lisa LaFlamme or Evan Solomon. But consumers don't know Bell's management, like general manager Hilary Whyte or regional general manager Richard Gray, who influence the varying quality of Bell's news coverage. When consumers are unhappy with what they're seeing on television or hearing on the radio, it’s Lisa and Evan, not Hilary and Richard, who are more likely to be on the receiving end of public fury.
Journalists aren't more deserving of criticism than the executives and managers who oversee them. In fact, it helps mainstream media corporations when the public directs its frustrations at individual journalists. Mainstream media corporations point at harsh online comments to deflect critical attention away from their own business practices, then brand themselves as defenders of journalists from mean people on the internet. Please, don't just take my word for it. According to documents obtained by Blacklock’s Reporter last year, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and five press associations (which Bell Media participates in) pledged to take on the problem of “online harms” directed at journalists by the public. This is the same language used by Canada's Liberal government to push for an internet censorship agenda, which lends credence to Glenn Greenwald’s argument that “corporate media outlets” are the “spear of the attack” on free speech.
Hiding behind employees and advocating for censorship is, in my view, partly a way for corporate media outlets to avoid accountability. But they cannot run from the crisis of distrust that's changing the news industry—no matter how many "online harms" they find on Twitter or Instagram.
To grasp the severity of the media's crisis, consider this: the average adult in North America is more likely to trust a police officer than a journalist. We hear a lot about police departments needing to be reformed, but the news industry is in need of greater transformation. Not to treat polling as gospel, but the numbers do paint an alarming picture. A 2019 Reuters study found only 52% of Canadians and 32% of Americans trust traditional and online media. Compare that to 70% of Canadians who trust cops. The lowest number of Americans on record to say they trust police officers is 48%.
Public distrust falls at the feet of mainstream media corporations. As journalism jobs become fewer and farther between because of declining revenues and more competition, executives and managers yield greater influence over employees with nowhere else to go.
My experience with Bell Media shows the kind of audacity and arrogance that a company’s lopsided labour market power can breed. Mainstream media corporations know that their labour market grossly favours employers. "Paid opportunities" are rare and valuable.
With that context in mind, put yourself in the shoes of a well-intentioned journalist: you may want to change the industry for the better, but you don’t have job security because the mainstream media landscape is shrinking. It can't be very easy to rock the boat without taking a significant personal risk.
If we want to reform the news industry, we should refrain from directing our frustrations toward the journalists who are clinging to jobs that could soon disappear. In doing so, we just play into the hands of managers and executives.
Don’t let the Bell Media’s of the world continue to hide behind who you see on television or hear on the radio. Let’s call out the corporations behind the curtain.
Part three of this five-part series will be an extensive look at Bell Media’s parent company, BCE Inc., as a case study of why big corporations have gone woke, and what we can do about it. Dropping on Monday, February 14.