Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of March 8, 1999
Catholic press under attack
Gov't ruling could spell end of Canadian news service
By ANH HOANG
WCR Staff Writer
The federal government has threatened the mailing privileges of Canada's weekly Catholic newspapers publications with a new definition of Canadian content.
The regulations from the Department of Canadian Heritage could spell the demise of Canadian Catholic News and lead to less Canadian and international Church news in the newspapers.
So far, four weekly newspapers have been denied postal subsidies because their publications do not contain the required 80 per cent original Canadian content.
"Up until Friday, I just thought we would breeze through the application process," said Joe Sinasac, editor of the Toronto-based Catholic Register, who received the subsidy denial letter Feb. 26. "This is certainly a body blow financially."
Without the federal subsidy, The Register would need to make up for the difference in postal cost, which Sinasac estimates would be $150,000 annually.
"(Lack of subsidy) would threaten the viability of some of the smaller papers," Sinasac said.
Through Canadian Heritage's Publication Assistance Program, publications pay 8.1 cents for each copy mailed to subscribers within Canada.
The Register was a recipient of the postal subsidy, but had to re-apply when Canadian Heritage took over the program's administrative duties in 1996. The program's $50-million budget was originally administered through Canada Post.
"Some (publications) are saying that if they don't get (the subsidy), it will kill them," said Audrey Dorsch of the Canadian Church Press. "Some of them will have to cut back on frequency (of publication), . . . cut back in other ways to make up for the difference."
The New Freeman in Saint John, N.B., the Prairie Messenger in Muenster, Sask., and Vancouver's B.C. Catholic have received letters similiar to that received by The Register from Canadian Heritage.
The papers were denied the subsidy because they did not meet the original Canadian content requirements.
Sinasac said The Register contains 80 per cent Canadian content, some of which it gets from the Canadian Catholic News, a news service offering access to Catholic news stories from across the country.
But federal officials interpret the content guidelines differently. Stories taken from CCN do not qualify under the Canadian content category.
"It must be an original story by a citizen or resident written specifically for the particular paper," said Ginette Menard, a program officer with Canadian Heritage. "Stories reprinted from other papers do not qualify."
CCN was established more than a decade ago. The members of CCN also share the salary cost for writer Art Babych, a part-time Ottawa correspondent. Menard said stories written by Babych are not included as original Canadian content guideline because they are reprinted in several papers.
"(CCN) was created to help improve Canadian coverage," said Sinasac, who is also co-chairman of CCN. None of the papers have the resources to cover the Church across Canada on their own.
"I don't think they should be disqualifying CCN," he said.
Sinasac has until April 8 to appeal the ruling. If the appeal is denied, The Register will lose its postal subsidy at the end of August.
Dorsch said she doesn't think the chances of a favourable appeal ruling are high.
"Most appeals chances aren't very high," she said.
If the appeal is rejected, Sinasac said it would mean the demise of CCN.
Since the program's administrative duties transferred into the hands of Canadian Heritage, representatives from Canadian Church Press have met with federal staff to iron out some concerns about the guidelines.
"Content was not an issue," said Dorsch. "It wasn't something that was a concern. Now we're seeing otherwise."
The policy itself has not changed since its days with Canada Post, said Menard. It's the interpretation that seems to differ.
"The criteria is the same now as it was before, we are applying it firmly now," she said. "The way we see it, CCN is putting the news out there and the other newspapers pay a fee for the service," Menard said. "They buy the news stories and reprint it.
"It's the same news being circulated in different papers. I would say that there needs to be more original news stories so that (readers) can have different stories to read . . . it adds variety to the paper."
Although CCN adds variety to publications by offering news coverage from various locales, Menard said the variety factor applies to a paper's content and not to the readers' interest.
"If (a reader) reads four or five of these newspapers, they are reading the same stories over," Menard said. "There is no variety for them."
Glen Argan, co-chairman of CCN, disagrees.
"We have a 38,000 circulation," said Argan, who is also the editor of the Western Catholic Reporter. "Of those readers, I think less than 1,000 receive another Catholic paper. So I don't think (our readers) are re-reading the same stories."
Dorsch added, "Re-using stories is part of publishing. Most freelancers sell their stories to more than one publication."
"We should realistically be allowed to use a story by a freelancer even if it's not written solely for one publication. It's still something written within the Canadian market."
Argan has not received any confirmation from the Canadian Heritage office, but anticipates it will be similiar to the one received by the other papers.
If Canadian Heritage denies postal subsidy and abides by its ruling, it would not mean the demise of the WCR, but a definite change in the paper's content.
"We would provide less news from sources in Canada, less international news," Argan said.
It could also mean a smaller paper for WCR, which has an average of 20 pages.
"We try to serve the readers," Argan said. "We serve them by providing local news, as well as Canadian news and international. For some of our readers, that's the most important part of the paper."
Like Sinasac, Bill Donovan, editor of the New Freeman is also appealing his subsidy denial.
"We're a staff of two - one reporter and a part-time office help," Donovan said. "To do what the government wants us to do would mean I have to hire x number of reporters. And you know, reporters don't come cheap.
"I don't think they understand what CCN is about. I don't think they understand the service it provides."
Donovan hasn't done any number crunching to determine what changes he will have to make if the appeal is rejected.
One way to make up the difference in mailing costs for the New Freeman would be to increase the annual subscription price from $20 to $50.
"It's the older people on fixed incomes who subscribe to our paper," Donovan said. "If we have to double our prices, they pay for it. They're on a fixed income, it adds up for them. We could lose subscriptions if that is the case.
"Effectively, this could put us out of business."