Birth of Television Agency "Rome Reports"

Director Aims to Fill a Media Gap

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ROME, JUNE 10, 2004 (Zenit.org).- The advent of the television agency Rome Reports will now make it possible for many TV channels to have a correspondent in the Eternal City.



Rome Reports hopes to respond to the needs of broadcasting stations that want more information from Rome, on the life of the Church as well as on the teachings of the Pope and Holy See officials.

Here, ZENIT interviewed Yago de la Cierva, director of Rome Reports. De la Cierva is a professor at the Faculty of Institutional Social Communication of the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross.

Q: John Paul II is undoubtedly the most established communicative personality. Why does he continue to attract the attention of the public in general?

De la Cierva: Because he is completely natural: He does not represent a role nor does he say what his audience might like to hear, but speaks according to his conscience. He is not tongue-tied, either with a rural parish priest or with the president of the United States.

His attitude is contrastive, in a world in which many political, social and even religious leaders first do a survey and then define their agenda. The saying "To tell the truth costs friendships" does not apply to him, because he speaks with disarming clarity and personal conviction.

Q: And why is he of interest to journalists and television cameras?

De la Cierva: For the same reason. The Pope's sincerity is very attractive to reporters, especially if they have considerable journalistic experience.

Moreover, the Pope is not afraid nor does he shun reporters. He understands the importance of communicating, and participates in the reporting exercise to the degree that his office and state of health allow.

He knows how to choose the right moment, the eloquent symbol, the revealing gesture, to express graphically what he wants to say. He does not even hide, when his physical limitations are evident. That's why the cameras "love" him.

Q: In any case, John Paul II is given more coverage in the press than in television news programs. In your opinion, what is the reason for this curious phenomenon?

De la Cierva: It is a normal fact: Just one newspaper page contains more news than a whole television news program.

Furthermore, I think that it has more to do with the way that television news programs are structured than with the Pope himself.

At present, they give far more coverage to news that can be "used and thrown away," than to news that is of greater relevance for the future. And the Pope is never trivial.

Moreover, the advertising crisis suffered by the media in recent years has forced them to reduce their staff, and perhaps the most expensive staff are foreign reporters. This is why there are so few accredited television reporters in Rome.

Q: But isn't it all the fault of television?

De la Cierva: It's true, many television stations do not report what the Pope does or says, simply because they don't get pictures or interpretations.

It must be kept in mind that, except during his trips and liturgical ceremonies, his work is carried out behind four walls. And it is not easy to report on the Vatican, and even less so on television.

Q: In what sense?

De la Cierva: I think that two phenomena relate to this.

On one hand, the Holy See is a very articulated and complex institution, which uses channels and rhythms that do not conform to the needs of the media. As Vaticanists well know, it is not at all easy to get valuable information on what is happening.

On the other hand, to report on the Vatican and, in general, on the Catholic Church, one needs much preparation -- in Catholic doctrine and morality, Church history, canon law, Christian literature. It is, in fact, a specialization.

When these premises are missing, the information that is transmitted does not reflect the reality, distrust of the sources increases, and the problem is aggravated. The whiting that bites its tail ...

Q: Why create a television station?

De la Cierva: Because I think that at present it is the weakest link in the Church's news chain.

It is not difficult to follow the activity of the Pope and of the Holy See through the written press, radio and Internet, thanks to means like ZENIT, which cover with great competence and timeliness all that happens in the Vatican and in general in the Church. However, television reporting is lacking, perhaps because it is a more complex and expensive means.

Nevertheless, it is necessary. Today the majority of the world is informed through television, and that's why we must "be there." We have much to learn from other religious confessions, which dedicate many people and resources to this medium.

I said earlier that it is more complicated to report on the Vatican on television, because if it is difficult to have a source reply by telephone or to accept a written interview; it is much more so to agree to speak before a camera. But it will eventually happen. I am an optimist. Where there is greater difficulty there is greater need ... and opportunities.

Q: What is the need or vacuum that Rome Reports wants to fill?

De la Cierva: We want to provide news and reports on the Pope and the Vatican to television stations that do not have correspondents in Rome, but which nevertheless want to give greater news coverage than they receive for general agencies; and with closeness to the source, a knowledge of the institution and professional excellence that favors communication between the Holy See and public opinion.

Q: How attractive is such news for commercial television stations?

De la Cierva: Quite attractive, I think. The Vatican represents an indispensable point of reference on international news issues, not only on strictly religious topics, but on other issues of great repercussion, such as peace and armed conflicts, bioethics and scientific research, solidarity and the economy, family policies, cultural and artistic life, etc.

We propose to offer quality information to these broadcasting stations on "the Church's perspective" on current events, something that is of interest to the 1 billion Catholics spread across the globe, and many other people who want keys to help them understand what is happening.

Q: In recent years we have witnessed the birth of Catholic television channels. What services can you offer them?

De la Cierva: Very intense news coverage. It is understandable that the commercial broadcasting stations only want news relating to current world events every now and then.

But the Catholic broadcasting stations are interested in everything that happens in the Holy See: ceremonies, news on causes of beatification and canonization, documents, "ad limina" visits of the bishops of their countries, etc. And all this reported with Catholic sensibility.

Q: How was the idea conceived?

De la Cierva: At an international meeting of communication professionals organized two years ago by the Faculty of Communication of the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross -- of which I am a professor.

But as it was realized immediately that it would have to have a business structure, the promoters -- professionals with years of experience in the media and in Rome -- established an independent society. The editorial staff is made up of journalists from seven countries, and at present we produce news, reports, and documentaries in English, Spanish and Portuguese.