Church should develop its own media

Anthony Zimmerman
May 17, 2003
Reproduced with Permission

Editor, HPR:

Russel Shaw is absolutely right when stating that "the Church must rely on its own media for evangelization" (March 2003). Sadly, however, he continues: "But Church media also have severe limitations, including the fact that they are divided ...(and) they reach only Catholics who are already convinced and committed." Must we remain stuck in this rut?

In 1883 the Bishops of the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore faced squarely the situation that Catholic children were not receiving a Catholic education. Forthwith they established the parochial school system. Bishops assessed, pastors cajoled, and people in the pew paid. Horse drawn scrapers hollowed out basements, carpenters nailed boards in the framework, the school bell was hung in place with speeches of gratitude by bishops and pastors. Over 6000 elementary schools were built by parishes and dioceses. We 62 million Catholics are the beneficiaries.

But since 1883 the mass media have elbowed aside the schools as the dominant carrier of culture. Children already formed by the secular media attend our languishing Catholic schools today. Yes, we are grateful to Eternal Word Television Network. Very grateful. But we can do more. The Lord awaits that we become the dominant carriers of total culture, much as Christianity eventually transformed the pagan culture of Rome into a civilization of love.

Can we do with the media today, what we did with schools since 1883? Allow me to suggest a way, based on what I see done in Japan where I have spend most of my priestly life since 1948.

In Japan a major carrier and transmitter of culture is NHK, the Japan Broadcasting Corporation with its enormous networks of TV channels and radio frequencies. With headquarters in Tokyo, NHK has 54 stations throughout Japan and 32 bureaus overseas. With an annual budget of over $5 billion, and 30,000 employees, NHK is a giant among competing commercial networks. The difference is that NHK is a semi-government corporation that collects fees, about $10 per month, from households, whereas commercial stations rely on ads for income. NHK programs do not have breaks for ads, and do not yield to pressure to keep up ratings by programing violence and sex and porno. NHK is people and family friendly.

The Board of Governors consists of 12 well informed and experienced persons, many of them professors and heads of corporations, who are subject to approval by both houses of the National Diet. This renders them answerable to the government and to the power of the ballot at election time. There are town meetings, school programs, surveys. Their purpose is to serve, not to sell cars and coca-cola. Mr. Pierre Furukaki, a staunch Catholic, was influential in setting up the policies of NHK when it re-established itself in the early 1950's. Ever since it has been a powerful carrier of the culture in Japan. One can say that what Saint Paul recommends is largely true of what NHK does: Finally, my brothers, our thoughts should be wholly directed to all that is true, all that deserves respect, all that is honest, pure, admirable, decent, virtuous or worth of praise (Phil 4:8).

How to establish a communications system to carry Catholic culture in the USA? First of all, how to collect funds? The Sunday envelope system is already in place. Ten dollars per month, in response to assessment by the bishop and sweet talk by the pastor, might rival the NHK system of collecting fees. Five million envelopes per weekly Sunday Mass would yield $2.6 billion per year.

Mr. Shaw mentioned the problem of division and disunity. Top management must be the bishops; successors of the apostles, who work in unity with Peter in Rome. The governing body might best be bishops subject to approval by the Pontifical Council for Social Communications at the Vatican. That body, now headed by the capable American Archbishop John Foley, might take the initiative to dialogue with key bishops in the USA about organizing such a body. Consultation with NHK would also be helpful. We don't have to invent the wheel again. Shall we not rise to today's new secularist challenge by organizing a Catholic Media Organization in the USA? If established and successful, it will evoke emulation throughout the Catholic world. Let us pray.