News archive 2014

Speaking notes of Archbishop Eamon Martin at the 2014 Radharc Trust awards ceremony

• The spirit of Radharc is alive and well in Pope Francis who said, “The Church needs to be concerned for, and present in, the world of communication, in order to dialogue with people today and to help them encounter Christ”.

• It is time for us to build afresh mutual respect and trust between media and the Church in Ireland, not in any fawning or deferential manner, but in recognition of the fact that we share similar goals.

• Film and documentary-makers working in the spirit of Radharc should seek to serve the common good by promoting truth, knowing there is no place for false witness, defamation or calumny which only serve to destroy the dignity of the human person.

I wish to salute this very special awards ceremony which promotes the values and ethos of Radharc.  Thank you, the members and friends of the ‘Radharc Trust’, for inviting me to be your guest of honour.

I wish I had properly met Father Joe Dunn – what I wouldn’t give now to have had a conversation with him about his fascinating film work and hear his opinions about Church and the media!  I am grateful for the quality and extent of programmes made by Joe and the Radharc ‘squad’ which is preserved in the Radharc archive.

Radharc was probably the most significant media achievement of the Church in Ireland in the 20th century.  It was, in effect, Ireland’s first independent television production company. The early days of Radharc coincided with the beginning of broadcasting by RTÉ television, and with the Second Vatican Council.  Recently we marked the 50th anniversary of one of the first major documents to emerge from the Council – Inter Mirifica – the decree on the media of social communications.  Let us remember how the document begins:

“Among the wonderful technological discoveries which men of talent … have made with God’s help, the Church welcomes and promotes with special interest those which have … uncovered new avenues of communicating… news, views and teachings of every sort.”

It was in this spirit of optimism and adventure that the Radharc squad was inspired over 35 years to make four hundred programmes capturing the interaction of faith and culture, filming all over Ireland and in 75 countries around the world.  For the people of Ireland the Radharc programmes provided a window on the world from a Gospel perspective.  They covered religious issues, social issues, sensitive issues – from scenes at a fair day in rural Ireland to the war and famine in Biafra; from the violent conflict in Northern Ireland to liberation theology in South America.  Through Radharc, a whole spectrum of contemporary issues was beamed into the living rooms of Ireland: issues of human rights, injustice, and persecution, the plight of Irish emigrants, the courage of our missionaries, and the struggles against oppression throughout the world.

Radharc was radical and, by any standard, its library of films is a magnificent accomplishment.

The Radharc squad were like “missionaries” offering a commentary, in the light of Gospel values and Catholic social teaching, on what Ireland and the world were really like and were becoming.  Their approach to the involvement of Church in the media, was pioneering for its time, but also prophetic in what it says to us today.

Radharc means ‘view’ or ‘vision’.  It is time, I believe, to find a new vision for harnessing communications technologies in order to bring the joy of the Gospel to the world.  I find inspiration for such a vision in the person and message of Pope Francis who is witnessing to a new openness within the Church to all aspects of social communications.  The spirit of Radharc is alive and well in Pope Francis! Earlier this year, on World Communications Day, the Holy Father said:

“The Church needs to be concerned for, and present in, the world of communication, in order to dialogue with people today and to help them encounter Christ.  She needs to be a Church at the side of others, capable of accompanying everyone along the way.  The revolution taking place in communications media and in information technologies represents a great and thrilling challenge; may we respond to that challenge with fresh energy and imagination as we seek to share with others the beauty of God.”

I therefore welcome any endeavours, such as this awards ceremony, which seek to keep alive the ethos and values that inspired Radharc.

No doubt over the years of Radharc broadcasting there were those in both Church and media circles who had reservations about the idea of a group primarily made up of priests transmitting independently-made programmes to the nation. The fact, however, that the series continued for so long as one of the most popular programmes in the country is testimony both to the quality of the Radharc output, and to the mutual regard and respect between media and Church that it engendered.

Over the past year or so, in my role as chair of the Council for Communications of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference, I have heard a variety of views on the relationship between the Church and the media in Ireland.  These views were garnered from professionals working inside and outside of Church structures, and they ranged from the negative to the optimistic.

In my view it is now time for us to build afresh mutual respect and trust between the Church and the media in Ireland, not in any fawning or deferential manner, but in recognition of the fact that we share similar goals – to seek out the truth, to highlight injustice.  In many ways we have a common mission – vocation even – to interact with society and the world in order to promote truth, ask hard questions, multiply goodness, enhance beauty and to serve the common good.

I recognise that coverage of the child abuse scandals in the Church has fundamentally shifted our relationship with the media. We are a long way from the 31 December 1961 when my predecessor Cardinal D’Alton broadcast a live message of blessing and goodwill from Armagh to the newly established RTÉ television station.  It is true that we in the Church have sometimes reacted defensively or in denial to legitimate criticism in the media – it is also true that some commentators, particularly on social media, seem at times to have lost the ability to objectively question a story, running instead with their consensus caricature of the Church.  Most now accept that “the media” has played a vitally important role in Ireland and around the world, in lifting the lid on a terrible and shameful chapter of our history; giving a voice to those who for years had been carrying a lonely trauma.  Media attention of these issues has accelerated the development and implementation of best practice in safeguarding, both in the Church and throughout society.

I imagine it is not easy to make a ground-breaking documentary nowadays in the spirit of Radharc.  Sometimes it seems to me that ‘success’ for a film or documentary these days is measured mainly in commercial terms, or by the sensation it creates, its ability to make it on to the next day’s front pages and chat shows or even to make heads roll.

Film and documentary-makers working in the spirit of Radharc should realise the importance of integrity in their work and their responsibility to truth.  No doubt they will be conscious of their ability to shape people’s attitudes and opinions, but ought to handle that privilege with humility, due sensitivity and care.  Their documentaries should seek to serve the common good by promoting truth, knowing there is no place for false witness, defamation or calumny which only serves to destroy the dignity of the human person.

I commend today’s award winners.  Their programmes have been judged as displaying the same passion for truth and justice which was central to the ethos of Radharc, and as showing an implicit awareness of the importance of Gospel values.  I don’t think I’d be of any use on the judging panel, but in my opinion a really good documentary should not only inform and entertain but also, where necessary, shine a light into dark places.  I can only imagine what Father Joe Dunn would have created with modern technology and camera equipment, instead of the bulky cameras, audio equipment and lighting he had to haul half way around the world!

The Catholic Church remains of great interest to the media today, perhaps even more so than in the early days of Radharc.  Because the Church is often counter-cultural, and a sign of contradiction in the secular world, it can be an object of fascination to many, of bewilderment or curiosity to others, and of hostility to some.  There is, of course, a legitimate interest in reporting bad as well as good news about the Church.  What Radharc did so well, however, was to present the beautiful, edifying and spiritually-inspiring lives of people of faith in ways which reflected the beauty and goodness of God.  I believe that today, when so many people are tempted to despair, we need to rediscover the Radharc vision and lift people up, giving them, as Saint Peter put it, “a reason for the hope that lies within us.”  With so much conflict, hatred and division in the world, it would do all our hearts good to witness the commitment of people of faith to peace and justice, to love and understanding.

To finish, therefore, I would like to quote Saint John Paul II, whose feast day we celebrate today, when he spoke to media personnel on the first day of his apostolic pilgrimage to Ireland, words which he spoke just across the city at the Dominican Convent in Cabra on the night of Saturday 29 September 1979:

“Your profession, by its very nature, makes you servants of the community.  Many of the members of that community will differ from you in political views, in material prospects, in religious conviction or in moral performance.  As good communicators, you serve them all just the same – with love and with truth – indeed with a love of truth…

“All your concern, then, will be for the community’s good.  You will feed it on the truth.  You will enlighten the community’s conscience and serve as its peacemaker.  You will set before the community standards that will keep it stretching for a way of life and mode of behaviour worthy of its potential, worthy of human dignity.

“You will inspire the community, fire its ideals, stimulate its imagination – if necessary, taunt it – into getting the best out of itself, the human best, the Christian best.  You will neither yield to any inducement nor bend before any threat which might seek to deflect you from total integrity in your professional service to the whole community.”

In this regard I want to thank you for all that you are doing, and for inviting me to address you. May God bless you in your work and witness.

ENDS

• Archbishop Eamon Martin is Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland

For media contact: Catholic Communications Office Maynooth: Martin Long 00353 (0) 86 172 7678 and Brenda Drumm 00353 (0) 87 310 4444

 

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