Women in journalism need an Equal Voice

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Rosemary Speirs passed away last week just as Lisa LaFlamme was being unceremoniously dumped as CTV’s award-winning anchor. Both were luminaries in the field of journalism.

By Sheila Copps
First published in The Hill Times on August 22, 2022.

Rosemary Speirs passed away last week just as Lisa LaFlamme was being unceremoniously dumped as CTV’s award-winning anchor.

Both were luminaries in the field of journalism.

Rosemary’s forte was the written word. She was a print journalist for more than three decades, and spent the majority of her career at the Toronto Star covering politics.

Lisa was the modern face of television, an accomplished journalist whose on-camera anchor demeanour exuded confidence and experience.

LaFlamme beat all the rest when it came to national awards for journalism.

Speirs was a stellar reporter, following the old adage of “Just the facts, ma’am.” She was a real example of what a journalist should be. No animus, no hidden personal agenda, just an attempt to get to the story behind the story.

As a politician, I always appreciated an interview by Speirs or Laflamme. They never doubled-down on politicians, never considered us the enemy. They would push us for information without ever being motivated by any personal animosity.

The current crop of male journalists carries their disdain for the political class as a badge of honour. Many are proud of the fact that they have zero belief in political integrity.

They make it known that most politicians are without talent, because truly talented change-makers would not deign to pursue a career in politics.

In Speirs’ case, she saw politics as a craft and as a place where one could effect real change.

Almost a quarter century separates LaFlamme and Speirs, but both focussed on bringing their unique talents into a man’s world.

In Rosemary’s case, one huge change she sought was more women in the political system.

To that end, she was a co-founder of Equal Voice, a national non-partisan organization focussed on encouraging more women to run in politics.

Because of her work, the organization has been actively recruiting women to add their voices to municipal, provincial, and federal politics for the past two decades.

Rosemary Speirs’ life’s work was improving equality in politics.

Perhaps we need that same drive applied to equality in media.

The firing of LaFlamme hit many hard on two fronts. Management’s explanation for the decision—that firing their award-winning, top-rated anchor was sound business—had the stench of sexism and ageism.

LaFlamme is only 58 years of age, yet somehow the brass at CTV believed she was not appealing to new—also known as younger—audiences.

As for gender bias, Peter Mansbridge and Lloyd Robertson, both respected national news anchors, remained in their posts until well past the national retirement age of 65.

Robertson left his his position as CTV news anchor in his 77th year. As for Mansbridge, he enjoyed a year-long pre-retirement celebration, stepping down on Canada’s 150th birthday at the age of 69.

Compare those departures to the sacking of LaFlamme at age 58.

When it comes to the treatment of women, politicians are doing a lot better than journalists.

Look what happened to Wendy Mesley when she allegedly brought up the N-word in a private news meeting to discuss coverage of a book.

She was secretly shoved aside, without a proper explanation of the fact that she was simply referring to the language in the book.

Before LaFlamme, the last great female anchor was Barbara Frum. The atrium in the new CBC building was named after her. She died while still on the job at the age of 54.

That was 30 years ago. But the recent treatment received by LaFlamme is proof positive that in all that time, the status of women in the media has not changed much.

Even the dress code for women is sexist. CTV executive Michael Melling, who dumped LaFlamme with two years left in her contract, also opposed her COVID-era decision to go grey, a decision cheered by women across the country.

LaFlamme kept her professionalism intact. She always looked fabulous, while bringing her measured journalistic skills to the job.

She embodied the likeability factor. People enjoyed watching her anchor the news. She would often find something positive to say at the end of a broadcast, in contrast to the usual negative nature of much news coverage.

Twitter labelled the person who fired her as the most hated man in Canada.

With ageism and sexism rearing their ugly heads, LaFlamme’s firing proves we need a Media Equal Voice.

Rosemary would approve!

Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. Follow her on Twitter at @Sheila_Copps.