A Popular, Award-Winning TV News Anchor Is Fired—Was It the Hair?

From a Washington Post story by Claire Parker headlined ‘A popular, award-winning TV news anchor is fired? Was it the hair?”:

For years, until her unceremonious firing this week, Lisa LaFlamme was a fixture in living rooms across Canada.

The abrupt dismissal of one of the country’s most prominent television journalists — she has led Canada’s most watched nightly newscast since 2011, and this year won the Canadian Screen Award for best national news anchor— has drawn both a backlash and a national conversation about sexism and age discrimination in the media.

LaFlamme, who covered the biggest stories of her time, including elections, wars and natural disasters, posted a video to Twitter Monday announcing that she had been informed in late June that her career with CTV News was over after parent company Bell Media decided to end her contract. She had worked for the network for 35 years and had just under two years left on her contract, according to the Globe and Mail.

“I was blindsided and am still shocked and saddened by Bell Media’s decision,” LaFlamme said, adding that she had been asked to keep her firing confidential for weeks.

“At 58, I still thought I’d have a lot more time to tell more of the stories that impact our daily lives,” she told followers. “While it is crushing to be leaving CTV National News in a manner that is not my choice, please know reporting to you has truly been the greatest honor of my life and I thank you for always being there.”

In a statement Monday, CTV said it had made a “business decision” to pursue a “different direction” for the chief news anchor role, citing “changing viewer habits.” The network announced the same day that national affairs correspondent Omar Sachedina, 39, would step into the role.

LaFlamme’s firing drew condemnation from viewers, colleagues in the media industry and prominent figures in Canada, including retired Grammy-winning singer Anne Murray.

The Canadian media have continuing to cover the fallout, with reports suggested various factors behind LaFlamme’s firing, including clashes between the anchor and CTV News head Michael Melling over resources for coverage of the war in Ukraine, among other issues.

But one avenue of speculation has touched a nerve among Canadian women left wondering: Was it the hair?

LaFlamme made headlines when she stopped dyeing her hair in 2020. During a special year-in-review broadcast, she told viewers that the pandemic had prevented her from visiting her hairstylist, and she was tired of spraying her roots each day before going on air, according to the Globe and Mail. “I finally said, ‘Why bother? I’m going gray,’ she said. “Honestly, if I had known the lockdown could be so liberating on that front I would have done it a lot sooner.”

The move resonated with Canadian women who have faced societal pressure to dye their hair. But it apparently ruffled the feathers of top CTV News executive Michael Melling, the Globe and Mail reported.

A senior CTV official told the newspaper that Melling had asked who had approved the decision to “let Lisa’s hair go gray” and later commented on the purple hue of LaFlamme’s locks under studio lighting.

Canadian women took to Twitter this week to celebrate the former anchor for embracing her gray hair and owning her age.

“Lisa LaFlamme allowed herself to age on camera and in doing so gave me the confidence to shine in my natural beauty as I age,” one Twitter user, Sarah M, wrote on Monday, calling CTV News’ decision “a massive mistake.”

Others worried that LaFlamme’s firing would send a message to middle-aged women that they could face professional consequences if they opted for a more natural look.

Many suggested sexism and ageism had played a role in LaFlamme’s dismissal. Some media experts pointed out that her predecessor, Lloyd Robertson, retired from the chief anchor role at 77 and was given an on-air send off.

LaFlamme “has made an important contribution to Canadian television news over the past 35 years,” read a statement Bell Media posted to Twitter Monday, signed by company president Wade Oosterman and senior vice president Karine Moses. The company would initiate an independent, third-party “internal workplace review of our newsroom,” the statement continued.

LaFlamme’s dismissal led some to call for Melling’s ouster, and Canadian media reported that CTV News has been forced to do damage control with its own employees.

Moses said in an email to staff that LaFlamme was given the opportunity to say goodbye to viewers before she left the anchor’s chair, but that she had “opted not to say goodbye to the public,” Canadian broadcaster Canadian Broadcasting Corp. reported. The anchor shake-up was part of a shift toward digital content creation at the news outlet, Moses wrote.

The backlash to LaFlamme’s firing has sparked its own backlash. In right-wing circles, figures such as Maxime Bernier, head of the far-right People’s Party of Canada, seizing the moment to divert attention to the firing by Canadian companies of thousands of workers who declined coronavirus vaccines.

Some prominent media figures, meanwhile, lamented that the controversy around LaFlamme’s ouster obscured the significance of her replacement’s hiring. Sachedina, an award-winning reporter who has worked at CTV News since 2009, was born in Canada to parents of Indian descent from Uganda — an underrepresented background in Canadian media.

“A Muslim man helming the biggest National news program — history,” Global News journalist Ahmar Khan tweeted. “But, diversity doesn’t cover the gaps of mistreatment.”

Claire Parker writes about foreign affairs for The Washington Post.

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