In My Opinion: Bill Heaney: The Churches and the media

ARCHBISHOP Philip Tartaglia appears to be one of the few churchmen in Scotland who realises there is no point in engaging in futile hostilities with the Press.

His message read out from the pulpit in Catholic churches for Communications Sunday at the weekend was not to ‘shoot the messenger’ but to engage with the media in all its guises.

He urged people and priests to become involved in traditional and new media, from Facebook to Twitter to newspapers and radio and television.

The Archbishop of Glasgow said Catholics had been “dismayed, hurt and embarrassed” to read headlines and listen to news bulletins carrying shameful revelations about the Church in recent times.

He added: “We have experienced the power of the media, and sometimes felt under siege from the harsh glare of rolling news.”

But he added the media had also brought good news about the election of Pope Francis and given prominence to his messages to the world.

He said social media was already being used to great effect to reach out, to inform and to engage with people, who are often far from the Church door, but reachable through a Facebook posting or a Twitter message.

The archbishop said Catholics should have their say in the media but cautioned them to get it right and he appealed for financial support for the Church “in her efforts to make her voice heard in the noisy world of modern communications”.

He added: “If we are to engage properly in public life we need to better resource our means of communicating the Church’s message.

“Our lives, for good or ill, are shaped by the media, both traditional and digital. The Church must take up the challenge to be present, to be coherent and to be convincing in the media.”

I forecast in January that 2013 was going to be one big year for religious affairs reporting and not many of us in this scribbling trade ever get fed up telling others how right we were.

It’s been mostly the Catholic Church these last few months.

Now, it is the Church of Scotland that is about to feel the heat of the media spotlight, when the General Assembly meets in Edinburgh on Monday.

The hot topics around their symbolic ‘burning bush’ will be whether active homosexuals should be allowed to preach in Presbyterian pulpits across Scotland.

And whether the Kirk can do anything – apart from offering higher stipends – to attract new recruits to the ministry and stop more dissenting congregations leaving and taking their ministers with them.

Just as there has been pressure on the Scottish Catholic Media Office, so the Church of Scotland’s media office is going to have its work cut out.

Including from me, if I don’t hear from it any time soon regarding my request for media accreditation to attend the General Assembly.

Bill Heaney is an award-winning journalist who edited the Lennox Herald for many years and was a special adviser, on the regional Press, at Holyrood and a media adviser at Westminster. He is now retired but continues to operate as a columnist with the Lennox Herald and a pro bono media consultant to a number of churches and charities.