The Ruttle Report - We need to 'Talk' about Bell

Every January, near the end of the month, there’s one day earmarked for spreading awareness of mental health issues and sharing feelings of empathy and understanding for those who struggle with it every day.

It’s called ‘Let’s Talk Day’ and it’s the brainchild of Bell Media, the Canadian communications giant that owns such engrained cultural entities such as CTV and TSN.  The gist is pretty simple: for every mention of the hashtag known as #BellLetsTalk on social media, Bell commits five cents to funding mental health initiatives across the country.

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On paper, it’s actually a pretty amazing cause.  This year’s Let’s Talk Day, held on January 28, saw a whopping total of 159,173,435 social media mentions, equating to just under $8 million in new funding, according to a Bell media release.  The hashtag was also the top trending topic on Twitter, a routine occurrence for this consistently successful event.

That’s certainly no small feat and you have to give credit where credit is due here.  Starting from zero dollars and driving it up to just under $8 million over the course of one day is nothing short of incredible.

And then the walls came crumbling down.

Just over a week removed from their annual day centered on mental health, Bell Media took the proverbial axe and started hacking and slashing away at jobs.  TSN radio stations were shuttered; over 200 Toronto employees were laid off, including half from newsrooms; and even Dan O’Toole of the widely known ‘Jay & Dan’ duo from TSN’s SportsCentre got his pink slip.

I’m only providing a small glimpse of what happened in this massacre of Canadian media.  For all I know, someone who works under the Bell umbrella is being terminated as I type this.

That last firing was quite the headscratcher as Dan O’Toole, who visited Outlook with co-host Jay Onrait to broadcast a live edition of SportsCentre from inside the regional park back in the summer of 2010, was a vocal supporter of Bell’s mental health initiatives, particularly as someone who has admitted to issues with his own mental health in the past.

Furthermore, it had fans asking, ‘Why only Dan and not Jay?  Why was he singled out?’

For his part, O’Toole took to Twitter days after his termination to poke holes, perhaps justifiably, at Bell’s Let’s Talk measure, indirectly questioning why the billion-dollar company waits for only a specific date to donate money to mental health initiatives, as opposed to doing so year-round.  A snippet of Dan’s Twitter:

“Let’s talk. We should. Let’s talk. Does it mean anything without a hashtag? Oh right. Wrong day. So I have to mention the company for it to mean anything? But what if I was fired by the company that makes the hashtag about mental health? Do I still include them in the hashtag?”

Hey, can you blame Dan for his take?  I don’t.  I really have to question the absolute need to lay this many people off and axe this many jobs just days after exclaiming how much one cares about the mental health of everyone.  It’s important to note that Bell Media received federal wage subsidies to the tune of over $120 million and raised shareholders’ dividends.  It also produced a gargantuan $22.9 billion in revenues for 2020.

It looks like others aren’t taking the news lightly either, as a petition making the rounds says that the Bell Let’s Talk initiative needs to end because all it represents is marketing and good PR for the company while amassing and donating millions for tax reductions.

Listen, no one’s saying that Bell Media shouldn’t operate the way that any other massive corporation operates.  In any company, there ARE going to be layoffs and people ARE going to lose jobs because that’s the way the corporate cookie crumbles.  But it’s the sheer timing of all of this that is leaving a horrifically sour taste in many mouths.

It goes further for me, though.  Every time Let’s Talk Day rolls around, I just can’t shake this feeling that most people just want to hop on the social media bandwagon for 24 hours and only make it appear that mental health is important to them.  Why just the ONE day a year, huh?  To make Bell look awesome, while they fire hundreds of their own people?

I say ‘Let’s Talk’ about the consistently underfunded and inaccessible support systems.  Let’s talk about the self-esteem destroying vulnerability that comes with aching to ask for help.  Let’s talk about the fear of what people will think if you come forward and out yourself as suffering from a mental illness.  Let’s talk about all that dark and grisly stuff that I guess just isn’t marketable enough for some corporations to brandish every January.

Then at some point, let’s stop talking and let’s actually do something about this stuff.

Saskatchewan government, are you listening?  Can we talk about a Sask Let’s Talk Day to raise money?  How about a quarter a tweet?  A loonie a like?

When Bell’s annual day arrives every January, I log onto Facebook and I can’t help but see dozens of people draping their profile pictures in that temporary ‘Let’s Talk’ logo.  It’s a nice gesture, and if that’s your thing, then cool.  As far as I’m concerned, after all that Bell has probably done to cripple the mental health of their now-former employees, I never want to read anything about how much they care or how much they raise.

It just goes to show that at the end of the day, this world will always belong to the white-collar types.  We just live in it.

For this week, that’s been the Ruttle Report.

© The Outlook

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