My Griffiths Memoirs

The decision by Arthur Griffiths to seek public office as a member of the Legislature brought back many personal memories … some sweet, some not so nice … of my days at BCTV, under the “Griffiths” reign.

Of course, Arthur’s suitability as a candidate for nomination, and ultimately, the possible Liberal West End MLA should be judged on his own abilities, personality traits , reputation and message to the voters.

But just like any Kennedy, Trudeau or Bennett running for public office … Arthur also has family links that will come under scrutiny. And by announcing this week at a press conference he will be seeking public office, Arthur has opened that door. 

Personally, I feel a great gratitude to Frank Griffiths (Sr.), the patriarch of the modern Griffiths clan and media mogul behind BCTV.  Because, under Griffiths, a group of highly skilled, imaginative, and adventurous television pioneers (Ray Peters as CEO; Don Smith as President; Bill Elliott as Vice-President, Operations; Cameron Bell as News Director; and, Keith Bradbury as Assignment Editor) created The Newshour .. the best local television news program in Canada.

And Frank Griffiths Sr. was not ONLY a bottom-line guy (like the current owners of almost every radio and television station today); BUT he also was a very proud Western Canadian, who celebrated his company’s roots and built a media empire that owned stations across the country, but always remained true to its Vancouver history and base.

He was a great Canadian and broadcaster .. and behind the scenes, those who ran BCTV for him, created a unique award-winning and highly profitable news operation by breaking the mould of television news.  They hired the best journalists they could … no matter they were often the homeliest too … not just the “cuties” preferred today … even a big, fat guy (definitely a non-television type!) who was covering the B.C. Legislature for The Vancouver Sun ,  apparently they thought quite well, but who had never reported on television in his life.

That was me … and the BCTV of Frank Griffiths Sr. and his people gave me what would turn out to be the best opportunity of my career, taught me how to report on television (quite different from newspapers), and gave me the freedom, the resources and the encouragment to research and  tell my stories … for 26 years.

And I hope I helped them too, in the ratings, and to boost their profit picture …  at least a little. 

The staff of BCTV, under Griffiths, Peters and the others, was like a large family: I always found management said “Yes” to almost any request whenever they could; staff were respected and listened to … reporters were invited to regular “bitch” sessions where they could vent and propose ideas that were often actually listened to and implimented, even if they cost resources, and money. Wow!  🙂

It was a recipe for success … and it worked, for everyone.  BCTV’s parent company, Western International Communications (WIC) had grown, with many more stations; shares had steadily risen, topping $16.

So it was with great pride that most of us actually participated with individual strokes to help “paint”, under the direction of an artist,  a large portrait of Griffiths for his 75th (?) birthday. A gift from the “family”.

April 7, 1994 Frank Griffiths Sr. died. 

After that, a lot changed. New senior management were brought in (old ones were retired off or fired); whole departments at BCTV were shut down; others curtailed … more than 40 people of the station’s family lost their jobs and had their lives totally disrupted.

Where was Emily (the family matriarch) many of us wondered? Where were the rest of the family? How could they let this happen?  Frank would be rolling over in his grave, we believed.

Apparently, the goose that laid the golden egg was being fattened up for … resale!

The staff cuts and operational changes helped boost the shares way up,  to about $34 each … and then Griffiths sold majority control …  allowing Izzy Asper and Global Communications to ultimately acquire control of  BCTV and other WIC holdings.. and absorb it into the Global empire.

Even the stylized B.C. dogwood symbol that celebrated BCTV is now gone. And, in my view, so are many of the highest quality story, writing and reporting standards that BCTV, under Griffiths, had come to enshrine.

After the sale, the newly enriched Emily headed off to Bermuda for an extended stay.  But what really bothered me … I never saw ..and no one I know has ever heard of or seen …  a departing note to staff  from the Griffiths to their BCTV “family” … no Thank You, no Good Luck, no message to mark the end of an era. It was just ‘take the dough and go” … not something I think Frank Sr. would have been proud of or would have ever done.

And as the changes, cutbacks and an apparent new attitude to staff all unfolded … the increasingly unhappy newsroom did what unhappy newsrooms do: they unionized. The old “family” atmosphere was all but gone … regular newsroom meetings were no longer  held  … and morale, I observed, took a beating.

If Arthur was concerned, fought against or criticized what I believe was the shabby way the Griffiths’ control of BCTV ended … how the “family”  left behind was treated and how so many lost their jobs  … I have never heard or seen him say so.

Maybe he will now … as he campaigns for their votes. 

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3 Responses to My Griffiths Memoirs

  1. monty says:

    Harvey, are you in BC or somewhere else? It is May 27 at 8:24 pm yet the last message I sent you said 3:14 am May 28.
    Last night Global went too far: an obviously ill trucker created havoc on the Lougheed highway and was finally run down and hit by an undercover cop’s vehicle. Not satisfied with showing all the aerial footage, the news crew somehow found out the trucker’s name (he’d been taken to hospital), showed an old picture of him, interviewed union buddies who hadn’t seen him for a year, etc. I sent them a scathing e-mail about showing respect for a mentally ill person and respecting his privacy. No charges had been laid. Anyway, Global has turned into tabloid TV with giggling morning show persons, unfunny sportscasters & so on. And no criticism of Gordo. It is a travesty what has become of what used to be BCTV.

  2. Wayne says:

    If this is the future well screw them all greedy evil grotesque self serving idiots.
    “If you gain the world but lose your soul etc”
    Welcome to hell boyz

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