Catholics and the Media: Opportunity for Growth
The importance of media in the contemporary church.During May, the Church celebrates World Communications Day. These excerpts, taken from the Statement on Communications Media and Catechesis presented by U.S. Bishop-Delegates at the 1977 Synod, stress the impact of communications in contemporary society. Although the statement is specifically addressed to "catechists," all of us involved in any way in the teaching ministry of the Church will find it relevant.
Statement of the U.S. Catholic Bishops, 1977
From the very beginning, the Church has used the arts to communicate Christ's message and fix it in people's minds and hearts. Biblical stories, saints' lives, and religious themes of all sorts have been depicted in stained glass, mosaics, painting, and sculpture. Music, poetry, dance, drama, architecture, and other art forms have also served catechetical purposes. Contemporary media such as television, films, photography, filmstrips, slides and tapes do so today. They are means with which the Church, like the farmer in the parable, broadcasts the seed in all directions (cf. Mk 4, 3 ff). Thus is the gospel 'proclaimed from the housetops" (cf. Mt. 10, 27). The collaboration of catechesis and the arts and media, therefore, deserves close attention and encouragement.
Impact of Communications Media Today
The communications revolution has had a profound impact on our world, with implications as great for religion as for any other area of life. Contemporary media offer marvelous new opportunities for catechesis.
RADIO AND TELEVISION
The impact of the communications revolution, especially television, is very powerful in many countries. The influx of information from all forms of media is overwhelming. A person living in the United States today is said to be exposed to more information in a week than his or her counterpart of two centuries ago was in a year.
Many persons find that they are given more information than they can assimilate or evaluate. People need to acquire "literacy" in relation to the new media, that is, to grow in their ability to evaluate television and other contemporary media by critical standards which include gospel values.
Particular attention should be paid to the damage which can be done to children and adults by excessive exposure to television violence and especially to all forms of immorality in the mass media.
Effect on Family Life
There are at least three different ways of thinking of the communications media in relation to catechesis: as shaper of the environment in which it takes place; as useful catechetical tools; and as appropriate subject matter. Not all catechists can or need to be media specialists, but all should have some understanding of the implications of media for their work. Communications media are relevant to every level of catechesis; they are pertinent to human development, to growth in theological understanding, and to faith experience itself.
Furthermore, how children understand reality still depends largely on their relationships with other people. But "other people" now include a much larger community than the immediate family, notably the community to which children are exposed through media, particularly television which occupies so much of most children's time. TV is important not only for the behavior it may encourage but that which it prevents --for instance, conversations, games, family celebrations, and other activities which foster learning and character development.
Knowledge of the audience is as important to successful broadcast production as familiarity with media technology. Producers must understand people's attitudes and values. Religious and catechetical programming should be professionally excellent, and responsive to the interest and needs of viewers and listeners.
Broadcast media can be particularly helpful in meeting special catechetical needs and problems. They can, for instance, be the most effective means of communicating with people in isolated and rural areas, as well as with such groups as the aged and shut-ins. Radio and television also offer opportunities for ecumenical collaboration and so, potentially, for reaching larger audiences.
On-going Technological Developments
People concerned with the religious and catechetical potential of media should be alert to significant changes in technology, organizational structure, and policy now occurring or anticipated in the broadcasting industry.
Despite the emergence of electronic media, print media of many different kinds reach daily into virtually every home and place of work.
The Catholic press has long been central to the Church's communication effort. It deserves the support of the Catholic people.
Catholic newspapers, magazines, books, pamphlets, and parish bulletins can be useful catechetical tools, especially in adult programs. Editors and publishers should provide appealing publications which help contemporary Catholics evaluate their experience in the light of Christian values, foster their growth in faith, and promote community among them. In particular, they should pay close attention to the requirements of justice and charity in reporting the news.
Through a diocesan (or other) communications office or directly, catechists should provide secular publications with accurate and interesting information on catechetical matters. Typically, this is done by news releases.
Training Media Producers
All who use the communications media in their work "have a duty in conscience to make themselves competent in the art of social communication;" 1 and this applies in particular to people with educational responsibilities, including catechists. Theory, technique, and research should be part of media training.
Training Media Users
Because television occupies so much of the time of so many people, catechesis should seek to foster critical understanding of this medium in particular. Viewers need to know, for example, how programs are planned and produced; techniques used by advertisers and others to influence and persuade; whether and to what degree TV gives a true picture of life or distorts reality; and the role of profit motives in determining policy in commercial television. Communication techniques suited to print media (for example, the logical patterning of a typical news story) are inappropriate in the electronic media, which require other modes suited to themselves. Understanding the "language"-techniques, principles, symbols, etc. -is essential to both sender and receiver. Otherwise communication is impeded.
Because people grow in maturity and because there are frequent changes in the media, continuing education is necessary to keep the critical faculty well-honed. Finally, the Church is grateful to those in the media who produce and present programs of benefit to the spiritual development of humanity.
1 Pastoral Instruction on the Means of Social Communications. Pontifical Commission for Social Communications, January 29, 1971, 15.