The Weekender: Let’s Talk About Let’s Talk

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Motives are rarely unselfish, so when a massive media conglomerate dedicates an entire day to raising money to deal with mental health issues in Canada, we should have in the back of our heads that Bell Media is not a humanitarian organization. Obviously, they’re getting a tonne of press, and not just from themselves, for the fact that they’re giving a nickel for every tweet, share and the like for a whole 24-hour period to battle the stigma of mental health and combat its causes. Meanwhile, hidden beneath the self-congratulation, is a company that doesn’t care about its own people when they suffer from mental health concerns. 

On Bell Let’s Talk Day Wednesday, a story made the rounds about Maria McLean, a former radio host at K93 FM in Grand Falls who submitted a doctor’s note saying that she need two weeks off to adjust to new medication resulting from a mental health issue. Well, she got two weeks off alright because the radio station put her our of a job. According to McLean, they didn’t tell her why she was fired but *wink*wink* it was just a coincidence that her firing occurred mere hours after submitting her doctor’s note.

Of course, Bell Media denies this, or they at least offered no comment except to say that they don’t comment on staffing issues. But there’s no such thing as a coincidence, and despite the fact that exactly one day before K93 was talking about McLean’s future at the station, she was canned because she needed some accommodation to treat her depression and anxiety. So much for Bell Media’s effort to end the stigma because there’s no other way to take this story than “Don’t tell your Bell Media bosses that you have a mental illness.”

That’s the opposite of the message that Bell Media itself was putting out with Let’s Talk, which says that people shouldn’t feel shame for their mental health issues. They should feel free to be discuss and share openly with people they trust, including their employer, and they should be encouraged to get the help that they need and not suffer in silence. At least that’s Bell Media’s public story, and if McLean’s story was merely a one-off, it might be easily dismissed, but this the second year in a row that Bell’s Let’s Talk day has come around and a story about the corporate arm’s tin ear to actual mental health issues has been told. Canadaland had a case last year of a woman whose job at Bell’s BNN caused her mental health issues.

Now two points make a line, not a pattern, but is it so weird to think that there might be more people “freelancing” at Bell’s channels, stations, papers or websites that may be suffering from too much job uncertainty with the combined pressure of too much work to do in order to desperately hold on to the job that’s making them sick? Hardly. Is Bell the only media company in this country where working people have little or no job security because they have job titles like “intern” even though they’re full-time employees? Nope, but Corus and Rogers aren’t giving themselves ass slaps and high fives for their magnanimousness either.

There’s a word for that, hypocrisy, and it’s not a new concept for Bell Media. Current president Mary Ann Turcke famously, in 2015, railed against how kids like her daughter use VPNs to access the U.S. version of Netflix as opposed to using Bell Media’s own great service CraveTV, which was then yet unavailable to the general Canadian public. No where did she ask “What’s the problem with what my company is doing?” Instead, it was all about why her 15-year-old and others didn’t shovel into their eyes what they’re being spoon fed by Bell.

A better example is Bell’s crybaby appeal to the CRTC to put the kibosh on the allowance of American commercials to air during the broadcast of the Super Bowl. You see, typically the Canadian feed is superimposed over the American one if you’re watching on satellite or cable, which means that you don’t get any of the high priced and highly viral ads that make the Super Bowl required viewing for non-football fans. That’s changing for the first time this year, and Bell Media is pissed.

Back in December, Bell launched a last ditch appeal to make sure that Canadian viewers only see what they want them to see. Now I personally could care less because thanks to YouTube you can find anything worth watching fairly easily within minutes of it first being seen, and you don’t have to watch NFL football to see them. But I do understand why its a thing, and I do understand why Bell Media might be miffed because the chances of anyone seeing their ads during the game are now small. Do I feel sorry for them? Absolutely not.

You see, this is the game that Bell and CTV have played for years. As opposed to generating their own content, the network has for years bought American TV shows for cheap and reaped the ad revenue of Canadian audiences having to see those commercials by simulcasting big American shows like Grey’s Anatomy or The X-Files. For once, Bell’s scheming hasn’t worked in their favour, and they’ve gotten litigious about it. If there’s one thing worse than not recognizing your privilege, its whining when you’ve reached the limits of your privilege.

Make no mistake, this is all about privilege. Bell owns so many media outlets they can practically write their own rules, and while that can lead to a tremendous good like $6.5 million for metal health, it also allows for tremendous cover like putting so much pressure on employees you cause mental illness, or firing a DJ for having a mental health issue. It’s a seller’s market out there, and for every media gig available, there’s about 10 people that would do any indignity, or take any pay cut, for the slim hope of getting their foot far enough in the door that it won’t be broken off when the door is slammed.

So good, Bell raised a tonne of awareness on an important issue, but Bell needs to remember the other side of the situation, and that is that they, as an employer, have a responsibility to uphold the standards that they so desperately want people to think they’re upholding. There’s a word for someone who thinks that the rules of decency and civility don’t apply to them and are all too willing to throw their weight around to make people do what they want: bully. And how many people suffer ill-effects to their mental health because of bullies. Not all bullies are traded on the TSX, but at least one them, as it turns out, is.

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