Bell Media complicit in Kevin O'Leary's Conservative Leadership bid
For months, failed mutual fund manager Kevin O’Leary has been testing the waters on a Conservative leadership bid (see prior post “Kevin O’Leary eyeing Conservative Leadership race as his latest self-promotion vehicle” Jan. 20-16). There was the meeting with Interim Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose. The speech to the Manning Conference. His personal interest in the rules of the leadership campaign. The odd yet enlightening interview with Laura Stone of The Globe and Mail. To cap it all off, there was a meet and greet with some of the friends / captives of PostMedia CEO Paul Godfrey last week.
All too often, KO does paid media hits for Bell Media, a division of BCE (BCE:TSX), in and around these obviously partisan activities. That he doesn’t find this unethical isn’t surprising, in my opinion, but Bell Media executives can no longer ignore that Mr. O’Leary using their airwaves to advance his partisan political campaign.
Given the obvious ethical issue, I keep waiting for BCE to announce that it has asked Mr. O’Leary to step away from his CTV Bell Media contract while he pursues his political dream. If George Cope doesn’t want his newsroom staff to accept something as small as a $25 Blue Jays ticket to ensure the appearance of independence, it cannot be fair to the rest of the Conservative field that KO is on his radio, TV and the internet properties 24/7 — when they are subject to the whims of CTV’s various newsrooms.
KO says he is in awe of Donald Trump’s “masterful” $2.1 billion of “free advertising”, to quote my old friend John Ivison. I wonder if Mr. O’Leary appreciates that by letting his inside voice get out, he is putting BCE in an impossible spot. One would expect someone as numeric as him to have tallied up how much “free advertising” he is getting from the Business News Network, among other Bell Media properties, each and every day. More than all of the other Conservative leadership contenders combined, of that I am sure. That trough has to end before someone complains to the CRTC and causes BCE even more embarrassment.
A few weeks ago, I thought KO was being very adroit by not referring to his interest in a specific political party; just politics in general. I thought that gave BCE an out, if they were looking for one.
Kevin O’Leary flew in at 1 a.m. from Orlando, where he’s filming a sequel to his hit TV show, Shark Tank, to pitch himself: a potential next leader of the Conservative Party of Canada.
“I’m an opportunist,” Mr. O’Leary says, sipping orange juice in Wilfrid’s, the quiet restaurant in the Château Laurier hotel beside Parliament Hill.
“Here’s a party that’s collapsed and is looking for leadership. The Liberals are going to be in chaos in three years, that’s my view. And somebody’s going to have to run this place.”
The only thing he’s considering right now, he says, is affecting Canadian economic and fiscal policy. “It’s not clear to me the path is through Conservative leadership – it may be the Liberal leadership. It’s going to end very badly for Justin Trudeau,” he says.
But now that he is talking specifically about his interest in the Conservative leadership race, Bell Media can no longer ignore the fact that KO has taken his political campaign beyond the point of no return.
As KO says himself:
“You call it the night before you have to.”
By waiting for KO to formally announce his campaign, it’s as though Bell Media is taking a page from KO’s ethical handbook. You’d think that a proud media organization such as this would rely on the Canadian Association of Journalists’ ethical guideline to “serve democracy and the public interest,” rather than KO’s.
(this post, like all blogs, is an “Opinion Piece” and reflects a personal view)