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Lord Patten outlines vision for reform of Vatican communications

Lord Patten outlines vision for reform of Vatican communications

(Vatican Radio) The head of the new committee to reform the Vatican’s media operation, Britain’s Lord Patten, says the Church’s resources must be “spent as effectively as possible” to communicate its unique message of “healing, love, hope and generosity of spirit.”

Speaking to Vatican Radio on Wednesday at the end of the first meeting of the committee, the former chairman of the BBC Trust said the Vatican, like every media organisation, faces the challenge of integrating rapidly changing technologies with traditional forms of communication.

The committee, set up in July, includes 11 media experts from Europe, the U.S., Latin America, Asia, as well as various Vatican offices. It has set a date of next Easter to come up with proposals for a closer coordination between Vatican Radio, television and internet, the newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, the press office and the Pontifical Council for Social Communications.

Asked about the need to cut costs, Chris Patten says that some Vatican budgets are “a little more opaque than one might like”, but he insists the main goal is to listen to peoples’ concerns and ensure the different part of the Vatican media work more closely and efficiently together.

Listen to Philippa Hitchen’s interview with Lord Patten: 

Q:At the end of this first meeting, what can you tell us about the goals of this reform process?

A: All of us as Christians and Catholics are aware that the church has a wonderful message of healing, of love, of hope and generosity of spirit and we have a responsibility to communicate that as well as we can. And of course, those who are in the front line in that task are professional journalists and those who help to manage their activities here in the Vatican. I think what strikes us all, as Catholics particularly strongly, is how His Holiness is such an extraordinary communicator himself and it makes us realise how much the rest of us have to do  – to use a sporting phrase – to up our game!

In addition to that, there’s an issue which is relevant to every media organisation, one which I’ve encountered in my recent experience, that the media finds itself having to run constantly to keep up with changing technology. One is aware of the extent to which the young receive information in a different way to which I’ve received it traditionally. It doesn’t mean they’re not informed, it means they get informed in different ways, so there’s that additional aspect to our work, considering how Vatican media needs to keep up with changes in technology. It doesn’t mean old technologies are somehow irrelevant, for example we all know how important shortwave radio still is in  communication with some of the poorest groups around the world, particularly in Africa and Asia. We all know how much people tend to believe what they hear on local radio which goes well beyond what they are prepared to believe from public authorities. So none of the very expert group of people I’m working with think that you have to forget about what you’ve been doing in the past, but you have to make sure that the different institutions work together and you have to take account of newer technologies.

Q: In announcing your Commission, Cardinal Pell noted that Vatican Radio is the largest media employer, yet he said ” fewer and fewer people around the world listen to the radio”. How do you envisage this integration of old and new media?

A: It’s perfectly true that if you look at how most people receive in developed countries their news these days, it’s probably through television rather than radio or the written press. On the other hand I’ve occasionally in my role as an author done book tours in Australia and found myself sitting in a studio in Sydney or Melbourne and down the line doing seven or eight local radio interviews, so plainly my publishers thought someone was listening! No, the point the cardinal was trying to make is that we have to make sure that the wonderful message the Catholic Church has to offer, is offered in ways which get through to the young, to the poor and to other groups in the most effective ways.

Q: Cardinal Pell also talked about the need for cost cutting – how much is this a priority?

A: This is about being more effective and there’s nothing wrong with churches trying to make sure that they use the money that is raised by the faithful in the most effective way possible. We are driven by a moral concern about communicating much better. If, in communicating better, you don’t spend as much money in one area as another, if you use your resources better, that’s terrific. I spent quite a lot of my life in the last few years in higher education… some people think that trying to run things effectively in terms of resources is a monstrous attack on academic autonomy – not so at all! It becomes an excuse for thinking, I think, when people take that view. No, we want to make sure that the Vatican’s resources, which aren’t limitless, are spent as effectively as possible and that people make rational choices about how they spend money, because I think it’s fair to say that some budgets are a little more opaque than one might like!

Q: In a practical sense, Cardinal Pell has also talked about the possibility of downsizing, of early retirement incentives….can you give us any idea whether this will happen?

 A: I can’t really, because we’ve only just had our first meeting. I am absolutely determined that we should finish this process in as reasonably as fast a time as we can and we have set ourselves the objective of trying to report to the cardinals – to Cardinal Pell and his colleagues, the Secretary of State and others by next Easter. We’ve planned further meetings and at our next meeting we are going to start talking to the “stakeholders” – it’s an awful word, but you know what I mean. We’re going to talk to Vatican Radio, L’Osservatore Romano, CTV, we’re going to talk to others who are part of the media operation and we are going to continue  that process from November into December.  We also want to hear from others outside , bishops conferences, we want to hear from journalists who cover the Vatican and its activities. We will be asking people that if they have got anything they want to say to us to communicate with Msgr. Paul Tighe, who is our secretary.

We will be trying to be as open as possible.  But what I don’t want to do is to engage myself in a running commentary on what we are doing because I think that that is extremely unfair, nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. There is always a real danger of leaking little gobbets of information which are confusing or worrying, because people have their professional pride, professional satisfaction, families, careers  which they’re concerned about and I want everybody who wants to do as good a job as possible for the Vatican and for its media operations to recognize that we are on their side. 

So the only thing I want to say at the outset – and I’m not going to be giving interviews every time we have a meeting – is we’re going to be open to what other people have to say to us; we’re going to be pretty tough about trying to end this process in good time and we hope that we will put forward some proposals that will recognize the particular importance of what the Church is communicating and the way in which it can best communicate that message in the 21st century.

(from Vatican Radio)