Michael Melling placed on leave from Bell Media

Richard Grey will take over as acting head of the company's news division in the fallout from Lisa LaFlamme's departure.

Michael Melling, head of news at Bell Media, is now on leave after his role in the firing of Lisa LaFlamme this month also gave rise to accusations of sexism and ageism.

In a statement posted to LinkedIn late Friday, Bell president and CEO Mirko Bibic said Melling had been placed on leave, pending the results of a workplace review being conducted in response to “various allegations.”

The change was also announced to CTV staff in a memo signed by Karine Moses, SVP of content development and news. According to the memo, Richard Gray will be acting as VP of news at Bell Media, supported by Moses. Gray’s career stretches back to being a news director at CHUM in the mid-90s, and was named regional general manager of radio and TV for Bell Media’s eastern region in 2021.

Bibic also said in his statement that it was “not the case” that LaFlamme was let go due to her age, gender or grey hair, and was unable to say more due to the terms of a mutual separation agreement. At the time of her departure, Bell Media maintained it was making a change in approach to its newscasts in response to changing audience habits, something Bibic also outlined in his statement.

“Broadcasting in Canada is undergoing massive change and Bell Media needs to adapt or be left behind,” he said. “In an environment of declining ratings and global online platforms, we can’t keep relying on traditional broadcasting. The days when viewers wait until 11 p.m. to get their news are gone. While some may resist change, it is necessary and we need to confront this. The CTV national news team needs to work on an integrated and aligned basis, dedicated to a common strategy and Bell Media needs to provide our journalists with the resources they need on all platforms where news is consumed.”

A report by The Globe and Mail that said Melling made negative comments about LaFlamme’s grey hair has gotten the most attention in the weeks following the anchor’s departure, including brands like Dove and Wendy’s launching campaigns in support of women choosing to go grey. But accusations of sexism also came up due to reports that LaFlamme questioned Melling over how resources were being devoted to important stories, such as the war in Ukraine. While some staff have blamed Melling for “a culture of fear” and low newsroom morale due to budget cuts and layoffs, another source told the Toronto Star these issues pre-dated him but were “amplified” when he took over Bell Media’s news operation from Wendy Freeman, who left the company at the end of last year.

CBC also obtained a pair of letters sent to Bibic and Bell’s board of directors. The letters – one sent by an anonymous group of CTV journalists, the other by human rights lawyer Paul Champ on behalf of a group of journalists – outlined concerns about a “toxic work culture that has developed at CTV over the past eight months,” “denigrating comments and adverse treatment in the workplace, with intimidation and reprisal being a common response” and management interference in news coverage.

While Bell Media has maintained it is committed to respectful work environment, the reports nonetheless led the company to launch a third-party review of its newsroom culture.