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CRTC chair blasts Bell for alleged meddling in CTV News coverage

03/25/2015 04:00 EDT | Updated 05/25/2015 05:59 EDT
CRTC chair Jean-Pierre Blais has sharply criticized Bell Media regarding a newspaper report suggesting the company's president tried to meddle in the news coverage at Bell-owned CTV.

On Wednesday, the Globe and Mail published a report alleging that Kevin Crull, president of Bell Media — which owns CTV — attempted to influence the news network's coverage of a recent CRTC decision on pick-and-pay cable television packages.

Specifically, the Globe story alleges that Crull attempted to ban the appearance of Blais, the CRTC chair, in coverage of the regulator's decision on pick-and-pay, which came out that day.

CBC has not independently verified the allegations as laid out in the Globe story.

But later on Wednesday, the CRTC issued a statement criticizing the actions described in the Globe piece. "That a regulated company does not like one of the CRTC’s rulings is one thing," Blais says. "The allegation, however, that the largest communication company in Canada is manipulating news coverage is disturbing."

While the statement does not directly refer to the Bell story, its timing following the Globe story implies that.

"Canadians can only wonder how many times corporate interests may have been placed ahead of the fair and balanced news reporting they expect from their broadcasting system," the CRTC says.

The CRTC release also notes that broadcasters, including CTV, are members of Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, which governs codes of conduct in the industry. The CRTC says anyone with complaints on the file should take it up with the regulator. "We expect Canada’s broadcasters to live up to their responsibilities and adhere to a high standard in their news and information programs."

At least one media watcher says if true, the report raises concern about concentrated media ownership. 

"It's an example of some of the concerns that people have raised about conglomerate ownership," Carleton University professor Christopher Waddell said. "[It's] a classic example of … when a company owns news media, it thinks it can influence what's being printed, broadcast or published."

"It's the sort of thing people were afraid was going to happen," he said.

Bell Media did not respond to requests for comment from CBC News on this story. But in the original Globe report, Bell Media spokesman Scott Henderson was quoted as saying "last Thursday’s CRTC decision was extensively featured on CTV, BNN, CP24, CTV News Channel, and our other news properties across Canada. As with previous CRTC announcements, the chair and his comments were featured as part of our coverage. CTV News has earned its reputation as Canada’s [No. 1] news broadcast through its adherence to journalistic integrity and independence, and will continue to do so."

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