A by DAVID MILES BOARD I Catholic Information Officer IT'S well known that parents get more enjoyment from children's treats than their children do, and the other day I proved myself a typical parent. My wife and I have been trying to drop in on some friends to see their colour television---and mainly for the sake of our young son (who is such a television addict that his first words were "Si-i-mon Dee"). Since our own television set operates for the most part in a very few shades of mid-grey, we expected whoops of joy when he saw glorious full colour for the first time. Not a bit of it. It must have taken him fully two seconds to weigh up this modern miracle, take it completely for granted. and make off to see the canary in the next room. And meanwhile, the set went on showing shots of astronauts manoeuvring their way around the moon. He had summed up the paradox of the Media of Social Communication pretty well-these media of press and television, radio. cinema and advertising. They are ut terly revolutionary—and utterly taken for granted. They are moulding a new civilisation, a world consciousness-and we scarcely stop to think about them. If he had been born a hundred years ago. my little boy might have known nothing of the world outside his own town: and rumour and hearsay from strangers and travellers might have been all he would have known of cornmunity and society. Government was remote, mysterious. Public debate was the prerogative of a few prominent men. Libraries and newspapers were as unusual as proper education. Yet now, the growing boy will be bombarded by news and pictures, opinions and experiences. At school, he will be given the basic tools of understanding. But in the home itself—through books and papers and TV—he will find the raw material on which to use them. He is a member of a communicating society, taking for granted— rightly so—that every man knows about the daily events of the whole world. We know what our leaders are doing, and we assume that every man has a right to know why they are doing it. To be challenged and provoked by the ideas of others is a daily experience and a birthright. And all through the mass communications coming in to our firesides, creating a revolution at the family table. Parents have a greater responsibility than ever before. We must teach our children to be critical and discriminating in their use of information, or see them swamped and dominated by it. It is the parable of the talents in a modern context: the mass media can be a way of increasing our mental and spiritual capital. if we use them properly. But it is all too easy to drop into the armchair, and twist the knob, and become television bankrupts and spendthrifts, passively consuming entertainment for our own pleasure. The media cannot form our opinions and our outlook unless we let them, and we have a right to talk back. I don't mean by writing to papers and to the studios, but by being an active audience. Ultimately the programmes don't get watched or papers bought unless they contain what the audience wants, and so Christians need to know what is of quality and to demand it. The Christian voice has not always been clearly heard in the mass media. Partly. I think. this is because journalists have a picture of the Church which is not ours. I am sometimes horrified by the sort of questions asked by the twenty or so journalists who ring the Information Office in London during an average day. They obviously expect the Church to have some restrictive ruling on every tiny detail of human behaviour, and they put their questions in a way which suggests that the Church will be devious and suspicious, and out of touch when she answers them. Worst of all, we tend not to get asked about the really big issues of public interest. as though the Church was thought to live in a back-water. Journalists are not angels of course, but it must be largely our fault that thdy view us in this way. And we are trying to change the situation. If our leaders, clerical and lay, arc prepared to contribute promptly to public debate with a really sound and well-argued comment, we will soon show where the Church's interest lies. Many such statements are now made through the Information 011ice to the media— and not at all on the small range of public questions to which Catholic comment has generally been confined. And then we have to show that the Church is concerned for the whole of society, and deeply wants to reveal herself to everyone. She must not try to do a smart public relations job. If the Church cannot tell the untinted truth, no one will. She must talk about her triumphs, but she must also talk about her faults. The evangelists who are often great journalists—are not afraid to show the apostles making terrible mistakes. We must not be afraid to admit that the modern Church too makes mistakes in trying to be faithful to her call.
Often, Churchmen 'complain that the news doesn't contain enough good news. They ask less frequently whether Christians have tried hard enough to make "good news" interesting. To ask journalists to print the fact that so many thousand good priests have not left the priesthood is a bit like asking the weather forecasters to say "there will be no weather today". But there are many really interesting pieces of news which show what it means to be really Christian, which—up till now—we have not brought to the ears of the journalists with sufficient clarity or professionalism. And above all, by her openness and willingness to communicate, the Church wins the right to talk about the right use of communications. We cannot tell others how to communicate honestly and morally unless we are setting the pace ourselves.
But all this work at the centre will come to nothing unless the statements of leaders are backed up by informed Catholic public opinion. Do we preach often enough about the relevance of our faith to the news of the day? In the family, do we discuss the latest plays and features, honestly trying to see what the writers are saying to us. openly trying to form our Christian opinions about their work? Our faith must be in contact with the daily flow from the set in the corner. We dare not—in this communicating age—let it be a sparse and Sunday thing.