Verify or fact-check the information before sharing. In his message for the 2021 World Communications Day, Pope Francis stressed the need for journalists and everyone else, to verify information before reporting or sharing. “We have known for some time that news and even images can be easily manipulated for any number of reasons, at times simply for sheer narcissism,” he said. “All of us are responsible for the communications we make, for the information we share, for the control that we can exert over fake news, by exposing it,” the Supreme Pontiff wrote. “All of us are to be witnesses of the truth: to go, to see and to share.” Annually, the Papal Message puts media professionals on their toes, to practice godly and responsible journalism while also promoting social communications as a part of the Church’s programme of outreach and teaching. The 2021 World Communications Day has once again offered Catholic Archdioceses and Dioceses the opportunity to look inwards, reassess and revamp their social communications strategies, to fulfill their primary goal of spreading the gospel. The Acting Editor, NETA NWOSU speaks with the Rome trained Social Communicator, Very Rev. Fr. Anthony Godonu, Director of Social Communications, Archdiocese of Lagos and the Priest-in-Charge of the Catholic Church of Presentation, Festac Town, Lagos, on the significance of the World Communications Day, essence of this year’s theme on the Society besides the Church, goals and challenges of the Lagos Directorate of Social Communications amid other contemporary issues. Excerpts.
Happy World Communications Day! What is the significance of this day to the Catholic Church and the world at large?
I wish you the same! Well, the World Communications Day is a day set aside by the Holy Mother Church, to celebrate and acknowledge the importance and roles of Communications media, in the spread of the Christian Gospel. This day, the Pope’s Message, which is often released on every 24th January of the subsisting year is usually read in every Catholic Cathedral of the world. And during the celebration, Catholic media practitioners often present themselves and their tools for blessing by the Bishop.
Do you think that the World Communications Day has been impactful in enhancing social communications in the Church and the society at large?
I will say very much, the celebration of World Communications Day has impacted greatly in the way the Church now uses the Communications media. For instance, before now, not much of the activities of our faith and teachings have had prominence in the social media, as it has in the print and broadcast media. But with more sensitization, through a day like this, many have come to realise and appreciate the role Communications play in evangelization. From this, we can say there’s now regular and better interaction between the Church and the human society.
The theme of this year’s World Communications Day is “Come and See” (Jn. 1.46). Communicating by Encountering People Where and as They are. As journalists immersed in the daily flow of news and selection of news items, how does this theme relate to news reporting and proper functioning of the newsrooms of the print, electronic and social media?
One of the greatest principles of the social communications is “See, Judge and Act”. And so, applying this year’s theme to the functions of print, electronic and social media imply going beyond gadgets, to having personal encounter with the subjects and objects of all our reportage or news gathering. The human touch and angle to every news reporting cannot be replaced by any gadget, even though they (the gadgets) also play important roles.
How can this theme enhance growth in humanity and mutual understanding?
I believe strongly that this year’s theme, ‘Come and See: Communicating by Encountering People Where and as They are’ is timely and appropriate for the signs of the time we live in. Many, today are hiding behind the social media sowing the seeds of discord and violence, racism, and discrimination. If we heed to the call of the Holy Father, Pope Francis, then we shall surely see real change that will foster peace, unity and happiness among humanity.
” Social Communications plays very important roles in the mission of the Church. And so, it’s one arm of the Church that needs greater attention by the hierarchy of the Church and indeed, we have seen a lot of efforts being made by the bishops in support of the Communications apostolate “
What do you think are the pros and cons of Social Communications in the mission of the Church in Nigeria?
Well, Social Communications plays very important roles in the mission of the Church. And so, it’s one arm of the Church that needs a greater attention by the hierarchy of the Church and indeed, we have seen a lot of efforts being made by the bishops in support of the Communications apostolate. For the pros, I will say finance and trainings have been intensified in recent times. I’m a product of trainings in social communications. Some of the few things militating against the Communications apostolate will include the fear and danger of social media, which we all must be careful about.
You are the Director, Directorate of Social Communications in the Archdiocese of Lagos, what are the goals of the Directorate? How far have these goals been realised?
Since coming on board as the Director of Social Communications in the Archdiocese, we have been able through the support of Almighty God and the Archbishop to set a number of goals for the Directorate. One of such goals is the rebranding of the Catholic Herald Newspaper Weekly, which we have achieved about ninety percent (90%). Not without the help of the LACC (Lagos Archdiocesan Communications Commission). Secondly, we have also set out to make the Directorate the hub of digital recording, with a standard audio recording studio, which was established in the Centre for Media Development, by one of our predecessors, Very Rev. Fr. Mike Umoh, now the National Director of Social Communications at Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria. The Directorate has also, the manpower for media consultancy and Media education of the young. In this regard, we are partnering with a number of institutions and organisations to organise empowerment, and education of the youths and the young adults. We also hope to continue with time-to-time trainings and seminars of the Lay faithful, in the use of the Communications media, to foster their apostolate.
How would you define the media apostolate? How is this apostolate doing in the Lagos Archdiocese?
The Media Apostolate is a vast domain in the Church. The Media apostolate is a department of the Church, saddled with information management, corporate image of the Church. It ensures smooth flow of information within and without the Church, by ensuring regular interface of ideas, between the priests, religious and the laity. The Media apostolate in the Lagos Archdiocese has been foremost in forming, strengthening and informing the public with the views which are in harmony with the natural law, as well as the Catholic teachings and precepts. And I will say so far so good, though there’s still lot of rooms for improvement.
What does the future look like for the Catholic Social Communications in Archdiocese of Lagos and Nigeria?
There’s no doubt that we are not yet where we really want to be. We are foreseeing a future where the Mother Church will go 100% digital. We want to see a Church whose presence is felt in all available media; print, broadcast, and social. At the moment, the Archdiocesan App tagged ‘Lagos Catholic Network (LCN)’ is already available on the Google Play Store. This App is a conglomerate of all the three media put together. If all Catholics embrace and use it, the Church will be nearer to everyone more than ever.
What do you think of the Vatican’s communication strategy? Has it changed or evolved since Pope Francis was elected Pope?
The Vatican Communications strategy has greatly changed since that popular proclamation of Pope Paul VI on December 4,1963 in the Second Vatican Council II Decree “Inter Mirifica”. Today, Pope Francis has built on the foundation laid by his predecessors. Today, the Vatican media is one of the most sophisticated media organisations in the world. Today, Pope Francis is on all the social media platforms, not to forget the Vatican radio and TV, and of course, the “L’ Osservato Romano’ the Vatican print media. Let’s look at the aggriornamento of the Second Vatican Council in throwing open the windows of the Church to the outside world.
Would you say that the Catholic media is finally catching up with the rest of the Church on this one?
Very Much! The Church has caught up with the world in every sense, with almost all world’s most powerful media organisations having correspondents in the Vatican.
What are the challenges of the Catholic media today?
Well, I will say the most obvious challenge is finance. ‘Money is the bicycle of evangelization’, without money, you cannot really achieve much, though with God, all things are possible.
Any final thoughts?
On this day, in which we celebrate World Communications Day, I wish all our Catholic media practitioners and indeed, all men and women involved in the Communications apostolate, both within and outside the Church, a very happy celebration. God bless you all. Shalom!