By John-Henry Westen

TORONTO, May 29, 2008 ( – The first day of the International Catholic Media Convention in Toronto yesterday heard from a panel of the mainstream media.  CTV news anchor Lloyd Robertson, CBC Radio producer Peter Kavanaugh and National Post Religion Reporter Charles Lewis addressed a standing-room only ‘master camp’ of Catholic media professionals.

Those attending found the session quite interesting with the panelists addressing how a story makes it “from the street to the front page”.  But far more interesting was the extensive Q & A session which followed the presentation. 

The questions were led off by Catholic Insight and Interim reporter Tony Gosgnach who asked CBC specifically and the panel more generally about the total lack of coverage of the National March for Life and lopsided coverage by CBC of World Youth Day and related Catholic news. That question evolved and led to the highpoint of the session.

CBC’s Kavanaugh had a fascinating story to tell.  He told of spending ten days in England at the introduction of the human embryology bill which similar to such bills in North America allowed for in vitro fertilization and embryonic stem cell research.  “Much to the shock of the Gordon government,” Kavanaugh recalled, “the Catholic Church went ballistic, they blew up, they issued denunciations of the bill from the pulpit.”

The CBC Radio producer continued: “The newspapers were filled with commentary from both sides, the front page of every paper was about the battle over the embryology bill. From an outsiders point of view it was a remarkable exercise in a democratic discussion about legislation that was proceeding through the House of Commons. It flowed into everything because the Cardinals and bishops in England suggested to Catholic politicians that they might not be able to vote in favour of this legislation. Gord Brown was in danger of losing several cabinet ministers, possibly 30 MPs.

Kavanaugh added, “It was an amazing exercise in democracy, the country was afire.  I was actually invigorated and envious because we almost never have these conversations in Canada.”

Significantly he said, “I’ve been thinking about this for two months now. I’ve come to the conclusion that its not our fault, its not the media’s fault.”

“Because the critical element in that story was a church’s willingness to actually engage in public, in the fiercest of terms an issue that they saw as being vital to the future of the nation and the future of humanity.  And the difficulty is in Canada churches are almost unwilling to do that, are unwilling to engage in those types of issues, in those types of discussions”, he said to a room now riveted to full attention.

“Another example,” he continued, “in England for almost a year and a half now there has been an ongoing story on the tension between the Catholic Church of England and Amnesty International over its policy on abortion.  In Canada that is not a story. It’s not a story not because we’re not interested in Amnesty International’s policy on abortion, its not a story because the Catholic Church in Canada won’t say anything about Amnesty International.  It won’t decide whether or not it is breaking off relations with Amnesty International whether or not it is disgruntled with Amnesty International, whether or not it doesn’t care about Amnesty International and that’s a difficulty,” he said as Catholic media sat in stunned silence. 

The silence was broken with laughter as Kavanaugh added, “The Catholic Church in Canada is almost quintessentially Canadian.”

As CTV’s Roberton and the National Post’s Lewis nodded in agreement and the crowd applauded its own agreement, Kavanaugh concluded: “I only say that because there are all kinds of issues which have real moral implications for society that we (the mainstream media) are not afraid of tackling.  But if people with large stakes and expertise in the area are unwilling to engage in the discussion then don’t be surprised if the discussion is carried out in a way that you will say, ‘my God why don’t they have a Catholic on that panel, why are all the bioethicists on that panel secular bioethicists’. The reason is that no bioethicists grounded in faith will return a call.”

Not content to merely nod in agreement Charles Lewis of the National Post asked to address the same point.  He noted that such issues are not engaged in out of fear of “getting in trouble”, but Lewis asked ‘who do you get in trouble with’. “Especially with the Catholic church built on martyrs or you think of Bonhoffer, they really got in trouble. So what if somebody gets angry at you?  Grow up, what’s the big deal, somebody calls you up and says you shouldn’t have said that, say ‘too bad it’s a free country; I think that’s what it takes.”