Sunday, February 07, 2010

In praise of the media

DESPITE a heap of Vatican documents beginning with Vigilanti Cura of 1936 and the landmark conciliar decree Inter Mirifica of 1963, and the annual papal messages initiated by John Paul II during World Communications Day that exhorts the Church to deeply engage with the media, some leaders of the Catholic Church, at least in the country, still find it uncomfortable, to say it too mildly, to get nudged by reporters.

Not too few are instances when press people are avoided like a disease by churchmen because, among sundry of reasons, they either twist the truth or barely report half of it. But worse is the mentality that regards the media as an enemy that pounce on matters that should be kept out of public scrutiny or, better, hidden under the rug. That being the case, media is a creature that must be either feared or leered.

Initially, the media was not supposed to be welcomed to the Second National Congress of the Clergy. One school of thought opined that allowing the press to get close to the priests may not only disturb the Congress, which was actually a retreat, but may open a floodgate of sensational stories as those of sexual misconduct of a few priests which has become a favorite journalism of American press. (But, truth to tell, it was because of the media exposé that this evil behavior was put to a halt—something that annual retreats or even canon law could not easily do in centuries.)

This, of course, was not the one that happened. The Second National Congress of the Clergy (NCC II) was not only a successful renewal event of the priests; it was also a triumph of the Catholic press. It has disproven a couple of myths about the media. For the first time in local media history, a story about the sacrament of confession landed on the front pages of national broadsheets. It has floored Charles Dana’s adage often idolized by journalists. (“When a dog bites a man, that is not news. But when a man bites a dog that IS news.”)

The NCC II has garnered massive media coverage. A day after the Congress, Yahoo and Google already registered thousands of online news about it. And this, not to mention online networking, national TV and radio stations (without even mentioning the members of the Catholic Media Network that boasts of 51 radio stations nationwide), and, of course, the national print media. And not a single news report tackled on issues that were mostly feared by church leaders.

Some Filipino priests in and out of the country who could not attend the congress faithfully followed the retreat by being glued to the global internet that video streamed some parts of NCC II. But the bigger take were probably millions of lay people who listened with their transistor radios as they prayed and reflected with their parish priests undergoing the national retreat.

The NCC II media coverage may change the mentality of some church people. But then changing minds takes often too long. For now, the media can still linger leisurely at the other side of the fence. And that’s understandable.

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