Page 5, 9th May 1997

9th May 1997
Page 5
Page 5, 9th May 1997 — Getting the message across

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Locations: Belfast, Birmingham


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Getting the message across


This Sunday is the Church's 31st World Communication Day. ROWANNE PASCO, broadcaster and editor, considers why, with the best news in the world, the Church is so poor at communicating it. NE REASON that the

former TV reporter Martin Bell was so amaz ingly successful in the General Election may have been that he is a popular media celebrity. He has appeared in living rooms, including of course those of the people of Tatton, hundreds of times.The unfortunate Mr Hamilton, his opponent in the constituency, interested the media pn;y briefly, and for reasons not in his favour. Britain's bestknown religious figure is not any senior member of the principal religions but Rabbi Lionel Blue, star of Radio and TV. When Delia Smith mentions any essential ingredient in her TV cookery shows the supermarkets sell out of whatever it is.

Television and radio are the most influential market places of our time, but how many Christian contributors can you name? How often is the Christian point of view heard in general programmes?

Vatican II held out a great vision for the way the Church could involve herself in the media. The Council saw the media existing for the general good helping to bring people closer together and to understand each other better by sharing knowledge and fears. The Latin inscription above Broadcasting House in London includes the phrase "Nation shall speak peace unto nation". The media are seen to offer "a great round table for all humanity" and to be crucial for the carrying out of Christ's command to his followers to "teach all nations". Now that Britain ignores organised religion and church-going, the media are the only channels for the Church to contact the majority of people.

How, for example, do Catholics know what the Pope is teaching unless they read about it in the papers or see it on television?

The Council also saw the media as helping to overcome illiteracy, to spread art and culture, to increase equality and to help people to relax in their leisure time.

What noble ideas: but what is the reality? I have spent some 25 years working in religious broadcasting at the BBC and TVAM, and almost 10 years as Editor of the Universe, and have found that trying to get any good Catholic contributor to be a most frustrating experience. Many times great opportunities to get the Catholic view over were lost because no one would do it.

When Pope Paul VI died I tried to find a bishop to come on to Radio 4's Prayer for the Day. The only volunteer was one of the then oldest, Archbishop Dwyer of Birmingham.

Again, one Christmas, the only senior Catholic who would come into the David Frost Programme to talk about the true meaning of the feast to some two million, largely non-religious, people was Cardinal Daly, then Primate of All Ireland, who had to drive all the way from Armagh to a studio in Belfast.

My colleagues at TVAM could not believe the general reluctance of Catholics to use the market place and spread their ideas. Free advertising to millions but so few interested in using it.


mine from Australia tells the story of the uge change he found when he moved from being a Government Press Officer to working for that country's Bishops' Conference. Whenever he travelled with a government minister the first thing the minister did when arriving anywhere would be to seek out the reporters and get his point of view over. The first thing any bishop did was to hide from the press, unwilling to answer any questions until he had "studied the matter fully". By then, of course, any reporter would no longer be there. News above all is immediate, a fact that even those in the Catholic Media Office do not seem to appreciate.

Is it perhaps that religious people feel that radio and television trivialise things? A seminary rector once told me that it was impossible to make any real point in such a brief broadcast as the three minutes now given to Radio 4's Thought for the Day. But which of Christ's parables takes 450 words, the number needed to fill three minutes? Is it perhaps that, religious people do not trust the secular media and fear it will make the going tough?

When I was Editor of the Universe, reaching a circulation of 170,000 at one time, co-operation from senior or well-known Catholics was not much better. One Lent I wrote to every bishop inviting them to give our readers a brief recommendation for spiritual reading. Only three bothered to reply, and one of them asked why on earth I had written. Did I think he was some kind of "guru"? I suppose I did.

Maybe professional Church people are too attached to the sermon. No one can interrupt or ask questions. But even here there is often a lot to be desired.

Fortunately in my local parish at Chipping Campden we have a parish priest who understands communication... plenty of personal stories, or verbal pictures, humour and woven around sound doctrine. His sermons would make good broadcasting. But I fear that he is not typical.

This Sunday is Communications Sunday with the usual attendant collection. I shall not put anything into the plate because I simply do not know where the money is going. Many parishes do not explain.

If it is to help train communicators, where are they and who is teaching them? Is the money to provide professional training in communications at Catholic schools or seminaries? That is certainly needed.

I recently interviewed the actress Moira Lister, who felt it essential for all clergy to have proper training in using their voices. She said that she would like to set up a school to do it.

Yet centres for professional media training which were set up in the wake of Vatican II, Hatch End in Britain and the Communications Centre in Ireland, have perished for want of interest and funding. It is no use having the best news in the world, the Gospel, if so few people know how to get across.

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