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Fighting fake news one show at a time

July 2, 2018
The spread of fake news through digital media poses one of the greatest challenges to professional newsgathering operations, says one of the Catholic Church’s most energetic communicators.
by Joseph Sinasac
“Fake news is a sign of intolerant and hypersensitive attitudes and leads only to the spread of arrogance and hatred,” according to Father Thomas Rosica CSB, chief executive officer of Salt and Light TV.
“Disinformation thrives on the absence of healthy confrontation with other sources of information that could effectively challenge prejudices and generate constructive dialogue; instead, it risks turning people into unwilling accomplices in spreading biased and baseless ideas,” the priest said in an interview with La Croix International.
Traditional news operations, having worked decades to create reputations for fairness and accuracy, see their work vying for the same attention of readers as “news” created by unaccountable sources with hidden agendas. Increasingly, news consumers don’t know how to tell the difference and share what they find indiscriminately.
“The tragedy of disinformation is that it discredits others, presenting them as enemies, to the point of demonizing them and fomenting conflict,” said Father Rosica, 59, a member of the religious Congregation of St. Basil.
Over the past 15 years his television network has been countering news that divides and incites hatred with a form of news that celebrates inspiring stories of faith and community building. Salt and Light celebrated its founding July 1.
The network is based in Toronto, has a studio in Montreal and will soon open an office in New York. It has access to 3 million Canadian viewers, who watch programming in English, French and Chinese. Over the years it has formed partnerships with Catholic networks around the world.
Its programs are carried by KTO in France, Catholic TV in Boston and EWTN (Eternal Word Television Network), as well as the Catholic Channel on Sirius Radio.
“Our internet viewing audience is around the world,” Father Rosica said. “Often for large events, we know that there are up to 100 countries viewing our programming.”
In a polarized and cutthroat media environment, Salt and Light took inspiration from Pope Francis’ most recent statement for World Communications Day, in which he urged Catholic communicators to battle “untruth” head on.
“When we are faithful to God’s plan, communication becomes an effective expression of our responsible search for truth and our pursuit of goodness,” Father Rosica said.
What sets Salt and Light apart from other Catholic news agencies is its emphasis on youth. It grew out of World Youth Day 2002 in Toronto. Father Rosica was in charge of locally organizing that event.
Afterwards, a Toronto businessman named Gaetano Gagliano asked the priest if he would help found a new Catholic TV agency.
The Gagliano family had been instrumental in obtaining a digital TV license and laying the foundation for Catholic TV in Canada before World Youth Day.
“From the beginning, my goal was to carry forward the dynamic spirit and movement of World Youth Day 2002 – an international ecclesial event that had young adults in the vanguard of the planning, execution and celebration of the event,” Father Rosica said.
Salt and Light is known for its bright, eager young reporters and producers who often find themselves broadcasting from the centre of international events such as papal visits, Synod of Bishops meetings and other mass gatherings of Catholics.
That impressive access to the corridors of power has benefited from Rosica’s own international connections. He has worked as a Vatican spokesman to the English-speaking world at the various synod gatherings and was a close collaborator with Father Federico Lombardi, SJ, when he was head of the Holy See Press Office.
Even today, Father Rosica continues to make his organization available to the Vatican whenever the need arises.
Since 2003, the network has won numerous international prizes for its coverage of the Catholic world, such as the Gabriel awards founded by the US Catholic Academy and now run by the Catholic Press Association of the United States and Canada.
Despite the accolades, running a Catholic television network is a never-ending battle for funds as well as viewers.
Father Rosica finds that an increasing amount of his time is spent wooing large donors, such as the Knights of Columbus. He laments that his adopted country of Canada is often less generous than his native United States.
The Gagliano family, however, continues to be a major financial contributor and many religious organizations have supported the efforts to enlist and train youth to be professional communicators.
“I have spent the past weeks quietly giving thanks to God for this most unexpected, unsought and unimaginable privilege that was given to me in November 2002 just when I was asked to take Gaetano Gagliano’s dream and realize it in technicolor and dolby sound,” said Father Rosica.
“In many ways, we have only just begun.”
 
To read the full article online at La Croix International, you can also click here.

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