Bell fires Kevin Crull — but that doesn’t solve the problem

Was Bell Media President Kevin Crull misinterpreted by the managers under him? Bell won't say.

Kevin Crull: Bad apple or scapegoat?

The head of Canada’s largest media company is suddenly out of a job. And the press release announcing the departure of Bell Media president Kevin Crull makes it clear the departure is related to Crull’s attempt to interfere in CTV News’s coverage of a recent CRTC decision:

“However, the independence of Bell Media’s news operations is of paramount importance to our company and to all Canadians. There can be no doubt that Bell will always uphold the journalistic standards that have made CTV the most trusted brand in Canadian news,” said Mr. Cope.

At the same time, Bell announced other executive changes, including the appointment of Mary Ann Turcke to replace Crull as president of Bell Media.

I was highly critical of Crull’s interference in news (particularly because it wasn’t the first time he’d done it), but I don’t know if firing him (or whatever negotiated departure actually took place) is necessarily the right call. I’m willing to take his apology at face value, even if it seems in hindsight as if it might have been forced on him.

What is clear, though, is that this does little to guarantee that such interference in Bell’s news operations won’t repeat in the future. There has been no investigation into whether Crull or other Bell Media executives tried to influence news coverage, and no procedures or independent watchdog in place to protect CTV News, BNN and others from BCE executives in a conflict of interest.

Unless there’s an announcement about that next, it’s hard to be too optimistic that this is a big change. Though it will probably do a lot to reassure journalists working at Bell Media.

Shaw Media also announced executive changes, though not nearly as controversially.

UPDATE: Cue the conspiracy theories — Crull was set up by Bell — and more reasoned analysis: Crull was sacrificed to prevent the CRTC from getting even angrier.

10 thoughts on “Bell fires Kevin Crull — but that doesn’t solve the problem

  1. Media Man

    This is interesting and happened a bit faster than I thought or was told..I got wind of this on Thursday March 26th..A special Board Meeting…George Cope was going to announce personally,etc..there were a few options on the table..this is was one of them…

    The following day I sent what I knew to some local media sources or people for their use to report on to help them do some digging…So my people were right..combined with this being a no-brainer….

  2. Clary

    Who cares? Only Bell would consider CTV as Canada’s most trusted news. No one else does. Haven’t watched CTV news since Harvey Kirck retired in 1984.

  3. Dilbert

    Firing him is the least they could do. It takes away the “name” target that the public and the other media might shoot for, but it doesn’t fix the bigger issue: Vertical integration and a corporate culture that thought both that this action was okay and that it was okay to follow the order.

    This is just a very public example of something that likely happens in smaller, and more private ways all the time. There is little doubt that the effects of having all of these companies under one umbrella and often under the same roof does not encourage journalistic independence. Rather, it makes it way too easy for “bob” to call “marie-claude” and provider her information that could spin a story in a more positive light for the company, or ask her perhaps to bury a story or make it less important to benefit the company. Without separation of these companies into independent entities, the whiff of corporate interference will always be there.

    Kevin Krull isn’t the only one, It’s also certain. He’s just the only one who got caught.

  4. It's Me

    No, seriously? Management and corporate interests are involved in news reporting? That’s a shocker! :s. So why didn’t anyone lose their jobs over that Save Local TV nonsense that was scattered all over the Bell media news channels a couple years ago? Especially when that outlandish fiasco of a press conference was held and covered live on CTV News Channel which was actually more like a corporate propaganda event instead. I remember during the “press conference” there was a video that was played and it was just corporate shrill and CTV News Channel actually had the video played on their servers as a direct feed to the viewers instead using their cameras to shoot the large screen it was playing on. Everything about the whole event and the Save Local TV campaign just wreaked of corporate interests flooding news operations with their own agenda. Yes, it may have deserved coverage by newsrooms, but the level of which it was covered and the way in which the newsrooms approached it, especially Bell’s, was so obviously tainted with corporate influence.

    So, where was Bell’s swift action to prevent influence on their news operations then? I guess because this was just one guy’s own personal vendetta made up on the spot (and was outed by the press, a key factor there, because don’t worry, he wouldn’t have lost his job if the press didn’t learn about it even if it was well known internally) instead of the Save Local TV which was a corporately executed well thought-out plan oh, and the press didn’t leak the news of the corporate meddling, probably because all of the big news operations at the time had vested interests in the Save Local TV campaign as well.

    1. Fagstein Post author

      So why didn’t anyone lose their jobs over that Save Local TV nonsense that was scattered all over the Bell media news channels a couple years ago?

      Bell Media didn’t exist until two years after Save Local TV. CTV wasn’t owned by Bell at the time.

      But yeah, the Save Local TV campaign was totally self-serving and raised serious issues about journalistic independence of CTV newsrooms.

      1. Dilbert

        Steve, that doesn’t seem to be right. Bell had a significant interest in CTV (through CTV Globemedia) as early as 2000. Their particular ownership levels varied over time (as they generally sold interest rather than refinance debt) but they always had a finger in the pie. In 2010, they moved to take full control.

        The Local TV Matters was started in 2009. Bell was on both sides of the issue, as part owner of CTVglobemedia, and on the “stop the TV Tax” coalition as Bell (sat tv distributor and specialty channel operator). Essentially, Bell saw which way the wind was blowing and decided to just buy out CTVGlobemedia and render the entire exercise moot. With Bell, Rogers, and Shaw owning to a greater or lesser degree the majority of local stations, the majority of the distribution, and the majority of the specialty channels. So they whole deal basically went quiet, and the Supreme Court ended the discussion entirely in 2012.

        So no matter which way you slice it, Bell was part of the bogus “Local TV Matters” campaign.

        1. Fagstein Post author

          Bell had a significant interest in CTV (through CTV Globemedia) as early as 2000.

          And then diluted that interest as the company grew. By 2009 it had only a 15% stake in CTVglobemedia. Torstar had a larger stake in it at the time. But if you think the Globe and Mail takes direct orders from Bell because of Bell’s 15% ownership, then I guess you can argue that it controlled CTV at the time too.

          Bell was on both sides of the issue, as part owner of CTVglobemedia, and on the “stop the TV Tax” coalition as Bell

          Why would Bell fund public campaigns that had opposite purposes?

          1. Dilbert

            Last time I looked, Bell owned at least 15% more of CTV than either of us ever have. Love it or hate it, they had a very significant financial interest in the network and the local stations.

            “Why would Bell fund public campaigns that had opposite purposes?”

            My guess would be that Bell really wasn’t supporting “Local TV Matters”, rather it was the majority ownership of CTVGlobemedia who were behind it. Bell, with their 15% or so stake, ended up on both sides of the argument.

            In the end, Bell decided to end the argument entirely by joining Shaw and Rogers in directly owning both sides and making the whole thing moot. I think it is perhaps the clearest indication that they realizes that if the local channels / networks were actually there to complain, their insanely profitable distribution and specialty channel business could suffer. So buying them out certainly has shut down most of the industry opposition to their rates and carriage deals.

            Obviously, as OTA isn’t particularly profitable, it would be a very poor investment by Bell unless they were realizing profits elsewhere as a result of their ownership of CTV and the local stations.

  5. Pingback: Is it ethical for TV news to shill for the network? | Fagstein

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