I. It seems EWTN always has had a tough time making inroads up here in the Great White North. In the 1980s and most of the 1990s, this highly successful Catholic broadcaster, started by that most wonderful and longsuffering nun Mother Angelica, was only available outside the United States on shortwave radio via its station WEWN Global Catholic Radio, broadcasting from Birmingham, Alabama. Listening required the purchase of a specialty radio able to tune in to frequencies outside commercial AM/FM bands as the broadcast ranges of the latter are restricted to just hundreds of miles. Yet in 1997 when EWTN first applied for a television broadcast license its application was rejected by the CRTC (Canadian Radio and Television Commission). At the time, the communication regulator's policy disallowed non–Canadian single–faith licensing. The prominent Canadian religious broadcaster during the 1990s was the "multi–faith" channel Vision TV, whose programming can be characterized as a kind of New Age syncretism. Road blocks against EWTN were even being erected from within the Catholic Church. Sr. Stephanie Vinec, CSJ, former president of the Association of Roman Catholic Communicators, evoked this disqualifier:
It's not just a matter of not wishing to work as a team with Canadian producers. It's a question of basic theology. Canadian Catholic producers have worked in the tradition set by our bishops after Vatican II... The Holy Father himself has urged the coming Church of the laity to prepare for the millennium in the light of Vatican II teaching. The renewal for the church for the new age depends on it... We have no assurance that EWTN would carry on the teaching of Vatican II in its fullness.With phraseology like the "coming Church of the laity", "new age" and "Vatican II in its fullness" it is a rather pedestrian task to identify the agenda Sr. Vinec was attempting to uphold. Nonetheless, a broadcast license was eventually approved, very likely to the dismay of Sr. Vinec and her fellow "professional Catholics", as B16 might phrase it. EWTN has been available in Canada for over a decade now, via three of our major television providers, namely Bell Canada, Rogers Communications and Shaw Communications, including a suite of smaller outfits. Reportedly, EWTN was experiencing "explosive growth" in 2006. I assumed this ascending trend continued to the present day...
II. That is until coming across an item on my Twitter news feed last week. A CNS tweet was reporting that Bell Canada will drop EWTN from its programming schedule this February 27. It appears that LifeSite News was the first to report on the story, on January 27. The Catholic Register had an article four days later on February 1. Quoting from the LSN report:
A representative of Bell told LSN that the removal was done because it "will free up bandwidth for new and more popular channels". The representative said that there would be a "repackaging" with other channels "similar to EWTN", but did not have information about what the "similar" channels would be. EWTN told LSN they had asked Bell TV to reconsider, but were told the decision to drop them was final.The Register article, referring to EWTN (with evident aversion) as a "conservative, American Catholic TV service", provides these e–mailed remarks by Bell spokeswoman Marie–Eve Francoeur:
EWTN had a low viewership and Salt + Light (Canada’s national Catholic television channel) is a strong alternative. This channel capacity is needed for new and high–demand channels... Bell must continually make programming choices and adjustments to match consumer demand with the channel capacity we have available. Channels with very low viewership or subscriber totals, such as EWTN, are removed to free up capacity for more popular programming.Another e–mail was received by Bell TV subscriber and blogger Vox Cantoris after making an enquiry to Bell. Here is an abstraction from the message by a "Clients Customer Relations Associate":
Please note that Salt & Light, a popular Catholic television network, remains available on Bell Satellite TV. Bell must continually make programming choices and adjustments to match consumer demand with the channel capacity we have available. Channels with very low viewership or subscriber totals, such as EWTN, are removed to free up capacity for more popular programming.Brady Grant, EWTN marketing manager for Canada, mentioned this to Bell:"You will be the only major carrier or provider in North America that doesn’t carry us". Very telling. So how could this be? Why is Bell Canada's decision "final" in dropping EWTN? Besides the reasons provided, has another factor been overlooked? Is there something else heretofore unseen which hides itself by its very obviousness?
III. Now let's break it down. Three main points are given so as to justify removing EWTN from the channel line–up: (i) low viewership/subscribers, (ii) freeing up of bandwidth for more channel capacity, thus permitting for more high–demand programming and (iii) an emphasis on Salt+Light TV as a "strong alternative" for a Catholic channel in Canada. Let's examine these...
IV. MediaStats, a consulting firm that collects and distributes data and information on the broadcast and cable industries in Canada, provides some interesting numbers. In its March 2010 compilation of the "Number of TV subscriptions for Digital Specialty Channels", EWTN had 154,471 subscribers (1.3% of total). The list also indicates that 17 channels had even less viewership than EWTN (less than or equal to 0.2%). Most of these were multilingual stations of which at least five channels are offered by Bell. Interestingly, Salt+Light TV had 144,388 (1.2%) subscribers, less than EWTN. It is well to remember that these statistics represent all of Canada's television providers. The big three, namely Bell, Rogers and Shaw, likely have the biggest share in subscribers and it would not be unreasonable to assume (roughly) an equal division (by three) in total numbers. Moreover, Bell provides TV principally via satellite, meaning that access (with a dish) to satellite is direct, uninhibited by location, not bound by (land–based) underground cable jurisdictions or telecommunication tower ownership.
V. Exact subscriber numbers are hard to gauge. According to the Register article, EWTN claims a Canadian viewership of 500,000. However, neither EWTN or Bell Canada are supplying data on the those specifically subscribing to Bell. Going back to January 27, 2006 (coincidentally, 5 years ago to the day of the breaking LSN report about Bell/EWTN), in a ZENIT interview Fr. Thomas Rosica, CEO of the Salt+Light Catholic Media Foundation, claimed 100,000 viewers for Salt+Light "in a little less than three years", from its 2003 start–up, "and the number of subscribers is growing". Recall, as quoted above in a 2006 LSN report, EWTN was concurrently experiencing "explosive growth". Accordingly, the abovementioned information strongly evidences that viewership for EWTN in Canada either surpasses or is at least equivalent to that of Salt+Light TV. Furthermore, it cannot be denied that Mother Angelica and her team constitute a telecommunications superforce with extremely high demand on a worldwide basis, irrespective if the broadcast format is television, radio, internet or their variations. And all of this is done exclusively with financial support from viewers, unlike Salt+Light TV (we will return to this important aspect in a moment).
VI. Logically, then, this question must be posed: Why is it that, due to "very low viewership", Bell Canada is only dropping EWTN from its programming when the data evidence that Salt+Light TV has an equivalent or even lower viewership, thus warranting its elimination as well? Perhaps there is a special need for a Canadian Catholic television station. In that same ZENIT interview Fr. Rosica addressed this very subject, that is, the uniqueness/specificity of Salt+Light TV relative to EWTN: "We view our efforts at Salt and Light as complementary to those of EWTN, but we are also responding to specific needs and complexities of the Canadian Church". A rather innocuous statement. Fair enough. This blogger also recalls seeing Fr. Rosica in a cordial TV conversation with Doug Keck, EWTN Executive Producer, circa 2006. It intimated a friendly relationship between the two Catholic broadcasters.
VII. But a few years later, in 2009, the dam broke. In a blog post on the controversy surrounding the public funeral of abortion enabler Senator Ted Kennedy (a dissident Catholic), Fr. Rosica accused "well–known colleagues in Catholic television broadcasting and media in North America... to be not agents of life, but of division, destruction, hatred, vitriol, judgment and violence". Reference here was being made to coverage/commentary of the affair by Raymond Arroyo at EWTN. An unexpected and shocking outburst that was, with many unsubstantiated allegations levelled against pro–lifers. Even Archbishop Raymond Burke got in on the action. Accordingly, it is reasonable to assume that a palpable tension exists between Salt+Light TV and EWTN in the present day.
VIII. Now Fr. Rosica's antagonism with EWTN is not entirely unexplainable. Firstly, note that he is member of the Episcopal Commission for Communications for the CCCB. In other words, he is a main spokesman for The Star Chamber which, most of us know, is not comprised of the most faithful of bishops, and that is an understatement. The status quo, apostasy and heresy are rife therein. The Canadian bishops have been in de facto schism from Rome since they issued the Winnipeg Statement in 1968, and I am not the only one to make that observation. In an analogous way that the USCCB attempted to hijack EWTN in the late 1980s, the boys at the CCCB weren't exactly ecstatic that Mother Angelica was coming to town, which is echoed in the statement by Sr. Vinec quoted at the outset. Secondly, it must be emphasized that Salt+Light TV is not, shall we say, "orthodox Catholic" in its commentary and current affairs programming. As Fr. Rosica's good friend John Allen, Jr. approvingly said: "Salt and Light under Rosica, have positioned themselves firmly in the Catholic middle"... whatever that means. Simply stated, Salt+Light TV is not, nor is modelled after, Mother Angelica's EWTN. It is underwritten, à la Fr. Rosica, by the CCCB and is financially supported by... well, now we come to the Invisible Man.
IX. John Allen, Jr., "one of the world's leading Vaticanistas" according to Fr. Rosica, wrote that there is "nothing wrong with asking where a group that takes positions on public policy gets its money, and how that funding might influence its judgments". Allen was referring to battle between LSN and Fr. Rosica during the Kennedy fiasco, but I think we can also apply that statement to Salt+Light TV. Note that heavy hitters are on the S+L Board of Directors. They include: Venterra Realty Management, Longo Brothers Fruit Markets Incorporated, Clearwater Capital Management Incorporated, Diamante Development Corporation, Carpe Diem Growth Capital, CPI Card Group and UCS Forest Group. Quite an ensemble of the business glitterati: presidents and CEOs of a real estate company, a grocery store chain, a condominium development corporation, capital management firms, a high tech plastic card manufacturer and a consortium of lumber importers/exporters.
X. But the big boy on the block, in terms of financial support for Salt+Light TV, is St. Joseph Communications, whose CEO, quite the superstar in the Canadian business community, is also Chair of the S+L Board of Directors. SJC is Canada's largest privately owned marketing, printing and communications company. Recalling Allen's remark about "how... funding might influence... judgments", it is revealing that SJC founder Gaetano Gagliano can regularly be seen in conversation with Fr. Rosica on Salt+Light TV from 6:30–7:00 pm or 5:30–6:00 am Monday to Friday (see schedule here). This program, entitled In Conversazione con Gaetano Gagliano, has been rebroadcast for years and I still haven't figured out its purpose, except as a venue for Rosica and Gagliano to extol their virtues.
XI. "But what does all of this have to do with Bell Canada dropping EWTN from its programming line–up?", the reader may be enquiring. The answer is very simple. Leaving aside the Salt+Light/EWTN enmity, know that Bell Canada is a client of St. Joseph Communications. The screen shots below outline recent work conducted by SJC for Bell:
XII. Once again this question is put forward: Why is it that, due to "very low viewership", Bell Canada is only dropping EWTN from its programming when the data evidence that Salt+Light TV has an equivalent or even lower viewership, thus warranting its elimination as well? Is Salt+Light TV exempt from this (proposed as a "strong alternative") because of Bell Canada's business relationship with St. Joseph Communications, whose CEO is also the Chair of Board of Directors of the Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation? Is there a conflict of interest here? Is there an investigative journalist out there looking for a story? Check it out... See what's going on.
NOTES / REFERENCES
1. Quoted in "Why was EWTN turned down?", Challenge, October 1997, vol. 24, no. 1, p. 8. Subnote that former CBC/CTV TV national newsreader Larry Henderson (1917–2006) was managing editor of this Canadian Catholic periodical. More importantly, he was also editor at the Catholic Register from 1973–1986. For a brief bio of Henderson's life see Fr. L.A. Kennedy, "Larry Henderson: Journalist", Catholic Insight, November 2002, vol. x, pp. 14–15. LINK
2. "Catholic Network EWTN's Explosive Growth in Canada", LifeSite News, March 22, 2006 (author not indicated). LINK
3. CNS News Briefs, "Canada's Bell TV plans to drop EWTN from its digital satellite service", Catholic News Service, February 3, 2011. LINK
4. M. Millette, "Bell ExpressVu will no longer carry EWTN in Canada", LifeSite News, January 27, 2011. LINK
5. See M. Swan, "Bell drops EWTN from digital service", Catholic Register, February 1, 2011. LINK
6. Click here for the e-mail message/post regarding Bell Canada.
7. Quoted in M. Swan, op. cit.
8. The MediaStats website can be found here. A PDF document of the statistics used in this article can be found here.
9. According to the Bell Canada channel line-up (as of October 6, 2010) these channels are: Tamil Vision, ATN Tamil Channel, ATN B4U Movie Channel, ATN Alpha Punjabi and ATN Commonwealth Broadcasting Network. The Catholic Register article (note 5) further states that Bell will be dropping "some other channels with low viewership".
10. Just recently Bell began providing television through underground fibre optic lines. It is unclear as to whether or not EWTN will be available on this system in the future.
11. "Evangelizing Through TV in Canada", ZENIT, January 27, 2006. LINK
13. T. Rosica, "Senator Edward Kennedy’s funeral: On mercy and misery", Salt + Light Television (blog), September 3, 2009. LINK See also J.-H. Westen, "Battle of the Catholic Stations: Salt and Light's Fr. Rosica Rips EWTN's Raymond Arroyo over Kennedy Funeral", LifeSite News, September 4, 2009. LINK
14. Burke (now Cardinal and Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura) responded to Fr. Rosica in the Romanita manner: "One sees the hand of the Father of Lies at work in the disregard for the situation of scandal or in the ridicule and even censure of those who experience scandal". An article adapted from this talk can be found at Abp. R.L. Burke, "Reflections on the Struggle to Advance the Culture of Life", Catholic Culture, September 2009. LINK
15. "Cardinal Edouard Gagnon, PSS (1918-2007), one-time head of the Committee of the Family and later President of the Council for the Family, expressed more than once the opinion that those Canadian bishops who supported the Winnipeg Statement were in schism". See Msgr. V. Foy, "Recovering Humanae vitae in Canada", Catholic Insight, October 2010, vol. xviii, no. 9, pp. 8–14. Msgr. Foy provides an overview of the Winnipeg Statement and its scandal in "Tragedy at Winnipeg: The Canadian Catholic Bishops' Statement on Humanae vitae", Challenge, vol. 14, 1988. LINK
16. See R. Arroyo, Mother Angelica: The Remarkable Story of a Nun, Her Nerve, and a Network of Miracles (New York: Doubleday, 2005), pp. 166–179, 208–216.
17. J.L. Allen, Jr., "Incivility hurts the pro–life cause", National Catholic Reporter, September 11, 2009. LINK
18. Administrator, "Covering the Vatican and the Church: John Allen’s lecture in Toronto", Salt+Light Television (blog), October 1, 2010. LINK
19. J.L. Allen, Jr., op. cit.
20. Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation, "S+L Board Members", Lampstand, Spring 2010, p. 10.