Before we got into the series on Inter Mirifica (see sidebar for the complete set of posts) I noted Zenit’s publication of this talk by Archbishop John Foley on use of the media. Foley was speaking to new bishops last Fall in his role as president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications.
Frankly, I am convinced that communication is THE essential work of a bishop. Jesus has told us to teach all nations and we have been advised to preach from the housetops (perhaps now TO the housetops, since that is where the television antennae are normally located). Certainly, nothing can help our task of teaching and preaching more than the communications media, and sometimes nothing can complicate our responsibility to teach and preach more than the communications media. …
The link and the miniscule first draft of this post has been sitting in the “management queue” of this blog for awhile. I had intended to post it as soon as we finished with Inter Mirifica, but good intentions drifted away. There are a lot of good points in this talk, but for the sake of brevity, I’ve highlighted just a few. Foley reviews a bit of history, including the follow-up document Communio et Progressio from 1971. A pastoral instruction, Aetatis Novae, was promulgated in 1992, and it was upon this document that Foley built his talk for this gathering of newly elevated bishops.
The communications officer of a diocese is “essential (for) every diocese,” according to Foley, working to build a reputation for “truthfulness, accuracy, and timeliness.”
If an atmosphere of trust has been established, then the media will be open to suggestions from such a public relations officer on worthwhile stories to cover — stories about what we can call the hidden saints who do heroic work with the sick, with the troubled, with the handicapped, with the young and with the old. There are literally thousands of “good news” stories waiting to be told — and which can and will be told if the media come to trust the integrity and the judgment of the communications officer who offers the story ideas.
Foley also included a reminder for parishes:
By the way, even local parishes can engage in effective public relations. For example, when there is a first Communion or a confirmation or a graduation, the local parish can send a press release to the local or community newspaper indicating the five “w’s” — the who, what, when, where and why of the event, including the names of all those involved in the event, because very local newspapers love to print names, because those whose names are mentioned or their families will buy and keep that issue of the paper.
Also, at the end of the five “w’s” there can be an explanation of what first Communion or confirmation is — in that way, providing a type of evangelization or religious instruction regarding the sacraments. The newspaper will not always publish the explanation, but they will sometimes — and that means we have obtained free access to a means of religious instruction and evangelization.
Basically, the attitude in public relations on the diocesan or even the parish level should be: Never overlook an opportunity to proclaim Christ’s message through activities in which the general public may be interested.
The archbishop also addressed the advantages of challenges of radio and television, noting some difficulties in the US, but making this suggestion for quality radio:
Your decision must be based on your assessment of the local or even national situation — but, whatever you do, present quality Catholic programming, and do not have people think less of the Church because what they hear is lacking in quality production techniques.
And of course, Foley touches upon our favorite form …
… which offers tremendous possibilities, but also some difficulties, is the Internet.
Many dioceses and even parishes have their own web sites. As you may know, the Vatican Web site is http://www.vatican.va. I am happy to report that it was I who got the .va domain for the Vatican to let people be assured that whatever messages came from that .va address were authentic. Unfortunately, there are unscrupulous people who get seemingly Catholic Internet addresses and provide either misinformation or even pornography on those sites. You can be sure of whatever has a .va domain — and, of course, you can have confidence in many other Catholic Web sites — but the danger of usurpers and hackers can exist on some sites which wish to appear Catholic but are not. …
Is the media out to get bishops? Foley offers advice which is fitting for more than just bishops:
I should say a word about interviews. Sometimes, the media will “ambush” you, and it is important always to reflect in your manner and in your responses the example of Christ — kind, clear and complete.
Never say anything you do not wish to see in print or hear on the air; if you do not know something or are not at liberty to say anything about the subject, say that; also try to become adept at using their question to give your answer. That is, you will have a point you wish to make which is related to the question they have asked; use their question to give your answer, because you may never have another opportunity to make the point you wish to make.
It is perhaps obvious to say that your responses should always be truthful in content and gracious in delivery. God is truth and God is love — and we should reflect both in our witness to him both in prepared remarks and in our occasional responses to inquiries from the media.
I know this link was offered on other sites last Fall, but is there anything you see worth a comment?