Bell won’t release internal report on journalistic independence at CTV: Cope

By David Friend, The Canadian Press

TORONTO – An internal report on the journalistic independence of staff at CTV News will not be released to the public, says George Cope, the head of Bell Media’s parent company BCE Inc.

Cope told reporters that a series of recommendations were made earlier this week by a committee formed of members from BCE’s board of directors.

From those suggestions, he says a new policy will be implemented to “enhance” the independence of journalists and the president of CTV News from the rest of the company.

The details will be part of a code of conduct for all BCE employees, BCE said.

The move follows Bell Media president Kevin Crull leaving his role earlier this month after he admitted trying to influence how CTV should cover a policy decision made by the CRTC on “pick-and-pay” options for TV channels.

His abrupt departure raised immediate questions about whether he had dabbled in other news stories that were of interest to the company.

CTV is a division of Bell Media, a company with assets in TV, radio, and the Internet. Bell Media in turn is owned by BCE (TSX:BCE), the country’s largest telecommunications firm.

Before his exit, Crull said his only intention was to suggest that media coverage of the decision focus on “a broad and necessary discussion” of how the CRTC decision would impact the telecommunications industry.

Cope says the independence of CTV journalists is “critical” to the network, but he says the new report wasn’t designed to enhance transparency.

“We just want to ensure that it does not happen again, and that we took action when it did happen,” he said after the BCE annual meeting.

“We’re a company, and we have governance we put in place. I think our actions have spoken on the topic,” he added.

Within the new report Cope says the company has added “some enhancements” to ensure that if another similar occurrence unfolded with conflict-of-interest concerns that “additional things” would be in place to make sure it didn’t escalate into a problem.

He says that would include the president of CTV News having the ability to contact him or an internal audit committee over their concerns.

When asked whether CTV news executives could have done that before, Cope declined to provide further details.

“We’ve spoken on this topic, we’ve taken action and that’s the only comment I have,” he said.

The committee was formed earlier this month at Cope’s request, and included Paul Weiss, chair of BCE’s audit committee and a director at Torstar (TSX:TS.B), as well as BCE directors former journalist and politician Carole Taylor and Ian Greenberg, who co-founded Astral Media.

Other members were fellow directors Robert Simmonds and Thomas O’Neill.

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