Maxing Credibility With Caution

Vatican Radio strives hard, like any respected news organization, to maintain its credibility and professional standards.

Unlike other news operations, however, Vatican Radio must tread cautiously on issues involving the social doctrine of the Catholic Church.

“We tell our stringers, [ take] maximum liberty in your reporting but please stay away from abortion, contraception and euthanasia stories if you can. Whatever you say, people will think, ‘Ah, that’s the Pope’s view,’ ” says William McCaughey, one of the English-language editors of Vatican Radio’s “Four Voices” program.

Perception problem

McCaughey, a 39-year-old American from Providence, R.I., also makes it clear that Vatican Radio allows “a great freedom to report things that don’t get reported otherwise.” But the perception that the stations’ news reports speak for the Pope has plagued Vatican Radio since its founding.

“We are not the official radio of Vatican City,” explains Father Ignazio Arregui, head of information. “Ours is not a civil society but a spiritual brotherhood. More than just being the voice of the Pope, Vatican Radio is the voice of 900 million Catholics all over the world.”

Over the past decade, nevertheless, Vatican Radio has been brought more directly under the Secretariat of State as part of the reorganization of the Curia desired by John Paul II. This reform was at least partly in answer to the upheaval in the Catholic Church that followed the reforms of Vatican II.

Steering safe course

Vatican Radio’s Jesuit executives steer a safe course by avoiding any editorial comment on issues, clerical or secular.

If there is any ideological bias, it is applied through the selection of news items. The director general, Father Pasquale Borgomeo, uses the issues of racism to explain his editorial approach.

“We don’t just condemn racism,” Father Borgomeo says. “Rather, through our choice of news items and the languages we transmit, we make positive statements that lead people to reflect.”

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