Social Communications’ Department

SIGNIS World Congress 2009
The World Association of Catholic Communicators (SIGNIS) is holding its 2009 World Congress in Chiang Mai, Thailand. The World Congress coincides with the Special Synod for Africa and has a very similar theme; Media for a Culture of Peace – Children’s rights, Tomorrow’s Promise.

The aim of the congress is to highlight how the media can contribute to the building of a culture of peace through the creative empowerment of tomorrow’s’ generations. The Congress will also try to inspire and give new impetus to Catholic media Professionals, to make a culture of peace and children’s rights a priority in their work.

The Congress will take place from 17 – 21 October 2009. As a World Association of Catholic Communication professionals, SIGNIS is committed to using the media as instruments for peace building, development and promotion of the human dignity, therefore the Association is committed to promoting “peace through and in the media”.

SIGNIS-Africa Delegates Meeting

The new and old SIGNIS-Africa delegates met at the Carmelite Retreat Centre, in Johannesburg, South Africa , from the 2nd – 6th of February 2009. The aim of the meeting was to finalise the SIGNIS Africa Statutes and to plan for the SIGNIS World Congress, that will take place in Chang Mai Thailand in October 2009. The delegates also took time to plan for the Africa Assembly whose venue was tentatively named as Abuja in Nigeria.

The Delegates had also a brain storming session with some media practitioners in South Africa about the training possibilities in Africa what could be done and what could be improved. Many ideas were put forward and the group agreed to prepare a database of the resources we have in Africa in terms of Human Resource/Experts, Institutions and Finances and then after that a way forward will be looked into.

The delegates visited Radio Veritas which is the only Catholic Radio Station that is on air in South Africa although for a few hours.

Some of the delegates waiting to participate in a programme at Radio Veritas.

IMBISA and AMECEA social communications departments have been partnering in different projects mainly in training for some time now. The partnership started in the early 1990s when they produced a communications manual called Communication for Pastoral Formation, which was divided into three Volumes in English and Portuguese, Volume one being on Basic Human Communication, second volume on Communication and Society and the third volume, Church, Communication and culture. These manuals were published by the Pauline Sisters in Nairobi, Kenya. The partnership was aimed at pulling resources together, financial and media expertise to benefit the two regions.

In 2008, end of May into June the two departments held a workshop on Media Management in Lilongwe, Malawi. The aim of the workshop was to provide a learning opportunity for the National Communications Directors to review, discuss, share best country experiences and practices and make recommendations on how best to administer communication efforts in the two regions. The presence of the communicators in Malawi was also aimed at boosting and encouraging communication efforts in the country.

The workshop was officially opened by Bishop Antony Pagani of Mangochi diocese who is the Bishop in charge of social communication at Malawi Episcopal Conference. In his address he called on the communicators to be people of dialogue through promoting dialogue that will result in peace and solidarity among stakeholders. He stated that dialogue is a powerful tool that fosters understanding and love among the people.

Bishop Pagani told the communicators that there is need that communications within the Church communities acquire a new approach with an open mind towards questions regarding the world media. Media people/practitioners should communicate the truth of God on behalf of God himself, on behalf of his son and on behalf of the Catholic Church and they should not be afraid of being opposed by the world.

The methodology of the workshop mixed group discussions and plenary sessions. This method ensured complete participation by all the participants and it enabled them to express their views, compare experiences and learn from each other.

Role of Church Media: The Media management workshop also served as an opportunity for the Catholic Communicators to take stock of the purpose of their existence and their contribution to the society. A number of questions were asked that led to a deep reflection by the whole group with the assistance of the Facilitator. The group agreed that media management for them is a practice that involves planning and organizing of human, financial, physical and informational resources to attain the communication goals in an efficient manner. The question that follows this is then, why are we in the Media as the Catholic Church? The answer that was given was that; as church we would like to reach more people with the good news, address social issues, empower the poor, give alternative content, give a voice to the voiceless,, share knowledge and information, educate, entertain and give an independent and gospel based analysis on social issues.

In the light of the above purpose media as a social institution needs to be evangelised by the church. Calling media an institution means we are agreeing that it has become a way of life for the people, a system or an organisation that has been in existence for a long time and has been accepted as part of society.

The media has been applauded for providing information, socializing communities, keeping the communities in touch or connected and setting the agenda for the communities by offering what the communities should be discussing and what they should leave out as less important.

Where the secular media have been found wanting is in the agenda setting role. The kind of information that is presented for the people to discuss and to feed on is all bad news and violence to the point of creating conflict between communities by the kind of language that is used. There is a lot of good news, on development, humanitarian assistance, education, etc but these are rarely put on the agenda for the communities to discuss, appreciate or just as information about what is going on around them.

This gap in the media is what the church media should fill in and try to give alternative information. The Church media needs to set a peace building and reconciliation agenda that is badly needed in many countries of Africa and the world over. Analysing social issues is another role that the church should seriously engage in because usually the analyses that are given are incomplete, biased or openly promoting a certain ideology.

Oval: Church Media needs to set a peace building and reconciliation agenda.

The Church media professionals would do better to give an alternative voice and point of view to the people.
However we should be able to celebrate with some Catholic radio stations and magazines which have become popular on our continent because of telling the truth and also being perceived as lacking bias. The church should ride on that wave while it still lasts and make its voice heard on behalf of the voiceless.

Way Forward: After having looked thoroughly at the way the Church is managing its media institutions and noting the loopholes which need to be addressed, the participants came up with resolutions and recommendations to be shared with the other Church media personnel and the top management in the church media institutions

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