Heading into week three of l’affaire LaFlamme comes word that Michael Melling, the man who reportedly told Lisa LaFlamme that CTV was moving in “another direction,” is now himself moving in another direction—namely the door. It is hard to believe that after all the unforced PR gaffes CTV has committed thus far in this trainwreck, that they would actually use the phrase “to spend more time with his family” to describe Melling’s departure, not to mention the fact that they are also calling it a “leave” when the only way he will be allowed back in the building is by wearing a disguise. CTV’s official position is that Melling is on leave pending the results of a third party investigation announced by Bell last week, but it is impossible to see an outcome that gets Melling back in his job.
The Globe and Mail reports CTV news employees sent a letter to Bell Canada CEO Mirko Bibic, board members and other executives calling out Melling, who only took over the department in January accusing him of “denigrating comments and adverse treatment in the workplace, with intimidation and reprisal being a common response to any who question the decision-making or processes of the new Vice-President of CTV News.”
While Melling is the point man in what may be the worst corporate public relations disaster in memory, there is no way he could have engineered LaFlamme’s departure without acquiescence from above; It may have been his idea, but it would have been carefully discussed in the upper ranks. It may be that Melling’s management style made him unsuitable for the job without the LaFlamme situation—indeed the anonymous letter to Bell brass suggests there was already a problem with his treatment of underlings. Bad PR is one thing, but being ridiculed by a beauty soap manufacturer and a hamburger chain, means you’ve hit bottom.
Some of the problems at CTV may involve the ownership structure of the Bell Media empire. Bell is essentially a telephone and cable company—a utility. CTV, while the largest TV network in Canada, only produces about 16 percent of Bell’s revenue and most of that comes from re-broadcasting American hit programs. CTV news, which includes all of the local stations CTV owns, is likely losing money. There once was a time when TV operators would accept losses in their news operations as the cost of doing business. The losses were miniscule compared to the huge profits made running US hits in prime time. But the price of those hits has been driven up by competition and the profit margins are shrinking. And then you have the fact that broadcast television has been eclipsed by streaming platforms. Its all a perfect storm.
Like the late soul singer Tyrone Davis, Bell executives, who maybe weren’t paying sufficient attention to one of the company’s smaller divisions, are probably wishing they could “turn back the hands of time” to just before the day in June when they decided to pull the plug on LaFlamme.