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Eric Malling: A Journalist’s Life

Eric Malling: A Journalist’s Life

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Published by Leonardo Calcagno

Throughout the history of broadcast media and the countless writers, editors, on-air personalities, and others who have provided the news, there have only been a relatively few journalists who left an indelible mark on audiences and colleagues. These are people who changed how stories are investigated, reported and remembered.

Journalists spend their days making contact with sources, scribbling notes and compiling new information into engaging, compelling stories.

Eric Malling was one of those journalists. For many Canadians, he personifies the uncompromising truth-teller, even today, more than 20 years after his untimely passing in 1998 at age 52.

Born on September 4, 1946, in Swift Current, Saskatchewan to Scandinavian immigrants, Eric Malling was destined to become a reporter. Following his graduation with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English literature from the University of Saskatchewan, he headed to Carleton University to study journalism.

In 1969, he joined the reporting staff of the Regina Leader-Post. Malling climbed quickly through the ranks of Canadian journalism – moving to The Toronto Star and then to broadcast journalism.  

Colleagues and audiences began to notice his take-no-prisoners style.  As a young reporter, he angered Ian Deans, an NDP member of the Ontario legislature, by making tongue-in-cheek remarks about rubber plant workers. He made a name for himself and, although he ruffled more than a few feathers, he was being recognized as a great journalist.

In the early 1970s, he shifted from newspapers to CTV news as a Parliamentary Correspondent.  Executives at the CBC noticed his challenging interviews with elected officials on Parliament Hill, and he was recruited to join the public broadcaster. 

In 1976, he joined the team of reporters at CBC’s The Fifth Estate, Canada’s top investigative reporting, and current affairs program.  For fifteen years, Malling worked with a talented team of journalistic colleagues to break news and produce award-winning television.

Until departing The Fifth Estate in 1990, Malling uncovered stories at home and abroad, and he conducted in-depth interviews with political leaders, celebrities and regular people. 

Eric Malling’s contributions to The Fifth Estate cannot be understated.  He joined the program for its second season and worked with colleagues to help the show find a committed audience.  Eventually, The Fifth Estate became must-see television for more than 1.5 million Canadians.

Malling was recruited to the show at age 29 as a surprise co-host alongside more experienced journalists. The thin, bespectacled Malling took his seat beside Adrienne Clarkson and the show continued. Although he may not have had the slick, carefully packaged appearance enjoyed by many television hosts, he had a reporter’s aggressiveness countenance and investigative instincts. The camera captured his penchant for blunt truths and cheeky humor.  Malling was a great reporter, but it’s also been said that he was “a guy who loved to misbehave.” 

One of Malling’s best-remembered interviews was a 1990 feature profile of hockey commentator Don Cherry. Malling gave Cherry just enough room to express controversial opinions about hockey players from Sweden and Russia. With his trademark style, Malling played the foil to Cherry’s candor.

Then there was the time in 1978 when Malling and The Fifth Estate producer Bill Cran were putting together an hour-long documentary about the illegal exportation of artillery shells from Canada to South Africa during apartheid. During the course of producing the show, Malling approached a representative of Gerald Bull, a Canadian engineer and arms smuggler who was developing long-range artillery, with shipping documents that very nearly implicated Bull. Malling was an inquisitive interviewer, but he also reveled in assembling pictures and words to pull a story together for the audience.

Many will also remember back in 1985 when Malling reported that John Fraser, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, overruled his own health inspectors and allowed the sale of large quantities of StarKist tuna that were deemed unfit for consumption — after he was lobbied by the tuna factory. This incident became known as “Tunagate,” and Malling’s report led to Fraser’s resignation.

In 1990, Malling left The Fifth Estate for CTV to join the staff of the rival network’s Saturday night newsmagazine show W5, which today is regarded as the longest-running newsmagazine show in North America and the most-watched program of its type in Canada. The prestigious show was tailor-made for a reporter of Malling’s caliber. Even the title, which refers to the five Ws of journalism: who, what, where, when and why, seemed to refer to Malling.

Over the years, Malling was honored with many awards from his peers. They include one Gemini, six ACTRAs and three Gordon Sinclair awards. The Gordon Sinclair aware was presented annually for excellence in broadcast journalism.

Off the air and out of the spotlight, Malling lived in Toronto with his family. He died in September 1998.

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