The Maronite Church in Today’s World
The Maronite Church and the Media
1. The Maronite Church, Media and Communication
The Maronite Church is a mission and a testimony. It is blessed with a special ecumenical dimension among the Eastern and Western Churches owing to the role that God bestowed upon it. A role it fulfilled throughout its long spiritual and social history, especially in its modern revival and national process and in the relation that bonds its name to that of Lebanon, on which it endeavored to establish a pluralist and democratic country that serves as meeting point for Christianity and Islam and for East and West. Hence, media and communications seem to be the appropriate tool through which it can keep up with this pioneering role by giving it a wider and more effective dimension. In view of the current historical circumstances, the need seems dire to disseminate a humanistic culture based on the values of freedom, openness and human rights. This way justice and peace will be promoted and religious plurality, which forms the essence of Lebanon, will be guaranteed – Lebanon, which was described by Pope John Paul II as the lair of cultural values and the paradigm of coexistence, freedom and democracy.
It is worth noting that the Maronite Church is distinguished by being a church of testimony and emigration. This urges it to lay stress on the medium of media and communication since only through the latter will it be able to keep up with its spiritual and cultural strife and gather its children, who are scattered throughout the world.
2. Mass Media: Importance and Missions
Mass media has established itself today in the core of the structure of our everyday life; and, with its different forms and advanced technologies, it became more than mere means of communication, dialogue and exchange. It is a gift from the self and its apostolate is similar to that of the prophets; it is a common language between humans, a culture that engulfs all the aspects of intellectual and social life, a prelude to a global meeting between cultures of different nations and peoples in the framework of one and diverse world culture that confirm the facts of the burgeoning movement of globalization.
The importance of media could be felt through the numerous tasks it undertakes and through being the third activity in the life of the contemporary Man, after working and sleeping, and the first means for knowledge and entertainment. Accordingly, it is endowed with a unique power to stereotype patterns of individual and common behavior, to directly influence the progress of the people and to condition the development and the formation of public opinion. The basis of a democratic political practice is public opinion by which these means will transcend to the level of a fourth authority via their basic mission in monitoring and evaluating the performance of the three other authorities. In addition to the fact that these means are bound by social duties that compete with family, school, religious institutions in raising the young, building an “external” truth through the choice, procession and presentation of media material, to the extent that some consider that “what is not promulgated by the media seems to be insignificant” or non-existent.
The Church has realized the importance of the modern technologies offered by media and communication and perceived in them a large forum of Christian testimony. Thus, it encouraged the appropriation of such means and their responsible usage, especially in the fields of education and the spread of the Good News; and it recommended its inclusion in all pastoral programs.
Furthermore, the pivotal role played by the media cannot cancel out personal contact or “interpersonal” contact, which remains an indispensable factor in human interaction. Preaching, spiritual guidance and the practice of rites and rituals, acts of piety and popular traditions form the basis of ecclesiastical media, which in itself is a valuable opportunity for direct social and spiritual communication that cannot be provided by the modern media channels. Since the Church is both a “community of communication” with Christ as “Word” and “Mediator”, media and communication had always been part and parcel of its apostolic mission and its work mechanism. The mission of the Church, since the time of the apostles, was based on direct and personal communication through the spread of the Word and through live testimony of knowledge, freedom and justice. This kind of communication based on the live word and on direct contact, such as the traditional announcement through the bell, the calling and the fire on mountain tops, extends to modern media, for direct and personal communication media remains subject to limited spatiotemporal confines unless it is proliferated by mass media, which is characterized by its capacity to spread and to surpass all impediments of space and time.
That is why, in view of all of these responsibilities, the Church pastors and leaders of the society and of public opinion lay great importance on the means of mass media and communication and consider them as constants in their activities and projects. However, in order for these channels to undertake their proper responsibilities, which entail the yearning of the contemporary Man to achieve himself, they need an atmosphere of freedom and liberality. This is why they do not fulfill their true mission except in the framework of systems whose laws guarantee private and public liberties and respect the conditions of responsible media practice.
In return, the systems that limit and imprison these liberties and that use these channels and manipulate them in order to hegemonize and typecast individuals and groups according to their set intellectual and political systems will be denying the society essential backbones for its progress and advancement.
Based on the above, how can the Maronite media rise up to the level and expectations of the noble mission of the Maronite Church? What are the goals and objectives of the Maronite media? How can this Church interact with the different religious and secular media channels? What are the ethical and moral qualities that a Maronite communicator should be endowed with? What is the mechanism that should be established in order to unify the strengths of the Maronite journalists in the world?
Chapter I : Integration of the Religious and Secular Media
in their Historical Path
The relation between the Church and the media is not confined to religious media, but it rather encompasses all fields and professions (cultural, political, economical, etc…). This is because media forms a comprehensive rostrum and forum that helps in the formation of society and contributes in the molding of the character of individuals and groups. Hence, religious media cannot cancel all other forms of media or even pretend that it is the only source of culture for contemporary Man. It will only succeed in fulfilling its objectives of building Man the ‘citizen’ and the ‘believer’ and in spreading humanistic values if it cooperates with and integrates secular media. In this context, it seems hard to speak of an exclusive Maronite media except for a significant number of magazines and publications published by ecclesiastical institutions. If there are Maronite journalists who impact and influence the formation of public opinion, locally and internationally, even if there is a preponderant Maronite presence in this media channel or that, this does not prevent them from falling prey to the policy of the institutions they work in and to the interest of their owners, be it financial, dogmatic or promotional, according to the demands of the market and at the expense of the public good and the common values. However, if the media is armed with Maronite values and Christian spiritual and moral principles in facing such danger, it will reduce the drawbacks and will preserve its apostolic and cultural dimension.
First : Mass Media and the Comprehensive Teachings of the Church
Catholic teachings have always laid stress on the issue of media and communication. Since the invention of the printing press in the 15th century, the Church begged it to spread the Word of God through the printing of sacred books and their dissemination. The Maronite Church was the first to introduce the use of this method in the Middle East, in its monasteries and its institutions (the Monastery of Saint Anthony Qozhaya 1610), for it considered it as a gift from God that would help it spread the word of the Holy Bible and the Christian Syriac and Arabic heritage. It was influenced by the Western Christian Renaissance in which the printing press played a leading role, which allowed the Church to spread its teachings in Europe and all the corners of the world. Thus, it is not strange that the echoes of the Pontifical constitution Inter Multiplices that was declared by Pope Innocent VIII in 1477, in the framework of the Vatican Council II Inter Mirifica (1963-1965) on media and communications, are an outright declaration to stress the importance of these means in their different technological and moral aspects, to reiterate their powerful ability to impact dogma and culture, to strongly recommend their organization and legalization and to use them as being an essential part of the new evangelization and as a sacred duty that should be undertaken and abided by in order to send forth the live word in the spirits all over the world.
This assertion was clearly voiced in the pastoral exhortation Communio et Progressio , which considered that “it would be difficult to suggest that Christ's command was being obeyed unless all the opportunities offered by the modern media to extend to vast numbers of people the announcement of his Good News were being used”. In the same sense, Pope Paul VI considered in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi that the improper use of these means is considered as a grave mistake for “The Church would feel guilty before the Lord if she did not utilize these powerful means that human skill is daily rendered more perfect”.
Some pastors and theologians called for the establishment of a “media theology” that goes in par with our times known as the “Aetatis Novae”; for the world has become a global village whose main arena (Areopagos) is the media. Thus, it is essential to master it from all its different dimension if we as believers in Christ want to achieve “good will and active charity, mutual help, love and communion” and “this, in turn, inclines them to justice and peace”.
Considering the attention conferred by the Church to these different “wondrous and mighty” means of communication, the Apostolic See and the Catholic Councils for Bishops in the world worked on founding newspapers, radio and television stations, websites, etc…They also aimed at spreading a number of educational messages on the media explaining the role of the media, its effect, the method of dealing with it and the conditions to improve its exploitation to better serve Man and society. They also encouraged the use of media and its integration in all pastoral and cultural programs. The group of messages forms a valuable reference for journalists and it sets forth the morals and ethics of their profession and the manner of applying Christian values in their circles. Furthermore, the Church has declared the establishment of a World Day for Communication in which it will celebrate the media in order to show appreciation for its social and spiritual mission. It also called for the incorporation of a communication course in educational programs, clerical schools and schools of theology, and for the upbringing of pastors and believers on the proper use of media in the service of the new evangelization and of culture, in order to develop a sense of criticism, which is the basis for the formation of a public opinion in contemporary democratic societies.
The ecclesiastic educational authority was a pioneer with respect to certain documents published before the Second Vatican Council in which it assures the right to inform and be informed and the right of every human being to objective news.
Second : Maronite Media in Its Historical Journey
In this context, it is deemed necessary to contemplate upon the role played by a section of the Lebanese press, since the second half of the 19th century, in sending forth the common Lebanese and Maronite values and in spreading and reviving a renaissance cultural and a natural awareness that remains very active until today. The Lebanese press in Lebanon, the patriarchal domain and the countries of emigration was a pioneer in its call for a national Arab rebirth and for the independence of Arabs despite the oppression it was facing.
Since its inception, the Lebanese press was one of the most important and essential rostrums for cultural expression in the Arab and Islamic worlds. It was also a main factor in raising awareness, in the Arab, World on crucial and fateful issues. Hence, some historians consider that chronicling the Arab intellectual activity, in general, and the Lebanese culture, in particular, remains lacking, unless it takes into consideration the role of periodicals, printing presses and theaters that were founded by the Lebanese during that era. During that time there appeared in Lebanon, Egypt and the Americas an advanced and multilingual press that maintained diversity in unity and preserved the tight bonds with the homeland and participated effectively in the renaissance and in spreading the spirit of independence and rejection of the Ottoman occupation. Many communicators and authors were martyred for that cause, while others continued their emigration to other countries in search of free forums, fleeing from the dangers of a discriminating policy and seeking a good life to continue their mission. The spread of such press has contributed in the spread of an educational, cultural and artistic institution, such as the theater, and in the emergence of intellectual, political and social currents that laid the foundations of a social movement of liberalization and paved the way for the establishment of parties and organizations that led to the formation of the state of Lebanon in its present democratic and pluralistic form.
All the while remaining faithful to the Arab culture and contributing largely in the Arab renaissance – whose pioneers were the graduates of the Maronite School of Rome – the media that was established by the Maronites in Lebanon and the patriarchal domain and the countries of emigration continued its development and progress deriving its dynamism and energy from that of its owners and from their openness to the Western culture and from the unique relation established since centuries between the Maronite Church and the Roman Apostolic See, with the social and cultural situations that stemmed from this relation and that were kindled by the emigration movement, the activity of the Maronite clergy and the missionaries inside and outside of Lebanon. All of the latter led to the emergence of the Maronite role in the Arab renaissance through the role of the media in the different arenas of culture, education and arts.
Despite the difficulties faced by the Lebanese community during the period extending between the two World Wars, the Maronites did not forsake their mission of developing and fortifying the media in its ecclesiastical and secular dimensions. Then, between the 30’s and the 70’s and before the war (1975), the political press witnessed a considerable boom while the ecclesiastical press witnessed a relative one, and Beirut became known as the printing press of the Arab World.
It is worth noting that the number of Christian, secular and religious journals and periodicals that were published between 1858 and 1973 in Lebanon and the countries of emigration amounted to hundreds. They were also published in many languages in addition to Arabic, French, English, Portuguese, Spanish and Turkish. After the establishment of the state of Greater Lebanon part of that press returned to its mother land after being mostly published from abroad; but, only a few actually remained in Lebanon – those to whom the conditions for survival were provided.
After the foundation of the Republic, some newspapers close to the Church tried to match the most widespread and influential newspapers in terms of impacting the public opinion and in terms of national and political orientation; but, they failed to do so, while, on the hand, the Lebanese press, in general, played a primordial role in the formation of the Lebanese system that was ingrained with the Maronite personality. Thus, it reflected through its achievements in the fields of freedom of speech, thought and coexistence the values that the Maronites lived by and embodied in a country that provided freedom and equality to all its sons, following the example of the modern democratic states. These media became a fourth authority that parallels the three official authorities in terms of their power to touch the conscience of people and to affect them; and their ability to activate the intellectual, social and political life.
The Lebanese press was a unique case in the Arab World in view of the margin of liberty and freedom it enjoyed, which made it a free rostrum for the different intellectual and political currents. It also became a model to follow in the Arab media, which was the prisoner of its state of affairs. This distinguished place which the Lebanese press occupied, in addition to its local and Arab role, drove some Arab systems or currents to fight it, at times, and to exploit it, at others. This allowed them to creep into the Lebanese body by using some of its newspapers as a rostrum for their political and ideological propaganda, which, in its origin, contradicts with the nature of the Lebanese system. Thus, before and during the outbreak of the Lebanese War, there appeared a pawned press that contributed in the ignition of struggles instead of raising awareness in service of dialogue and peace. During that same period, some neutral newspapers disappeared from the arena because they were unable to survive in an atmosphere of fanaticism and radicalism. The arbitrary appearance of private radio and television stations during and after the war contributed in the persistence of the situations resulting from that war and in instigating them and aggravating their impact.
With the end of the war, the laws regulating the media were supposed to put an end to this phenomenon of “media explosion”. But, the forces of money and politics distributed those means of communication among themselves and the Christian media, with the support of secular apostolic movements, had to protest and fight in order to preserve the right of the Church to own modern media forums, such as televisions or radio stations, in order to cater to the spiritual and cultural needs of believers and to keep up with the movement of civil and democratic life.
Chapter II : The Maronite Church and the State of Affairs vis-à-vis the Media
The Lebanese experience exposed in this paper forms the main topic of the “Maronite Church and the Media” due to the main role that the Lebanese media is playing in spreading the message of the Church of Lebanon in the world and keeping up with its daily interests, in addition to reflecting the image of Lebanon and its Maronites, attracting by that the attention of all Lebanese and Maronites on the issues related to their mother land. In return, the media issued outside of Lebanon and directed towards it and towards the countries of emigration seems elusive. Hence, Lebanese media remains the nucleus of the relation between the Maronite Church and the media, especially during the last period that witnessed the emergence of satellite TV and the development of its programs, which are directed towards the countries of emigration. Thus, it is important to highlight this fact by concentrating on the Lebanese media, especially since it owns modern and developed technologies that can ensure continuous communication with the Maronite community in the different regions of the world.
First : State of Affairs of the Secular Media in Lebanon
1. The Lebanese Media: State of Affairs
The general Lebanese media scene witnessed a radical transformation after the war that stormed through Lebanon, when the state lost control of audiovisual media and was replaced by the de facto forces of that time. Hundreds of radio stations and tens of television stations mushroomed. This phenomenon that was described as “media explosion” necessitated regulation according to set and promulgated laws. This new state of affairs of the media resulted in a reduction in the role of the written press in favor of television stations, which became the honing tool of public opinion since it is directed to a broader audience, while the written press remained the choice of the elite. The force of this transformation was aggravated by the stifling economic crisis that impacted the budgets of all newspapers. Their income decreased astronomically especially with the decrease of the size of the advertising market, which subjected the publication of newspapers to the powers of money and political influence. The common conviction in the media circles during that time was that the Lebanese press, in its majority, lost its familiar dynamism and independence due to its relation with parties that provide it with the financial element necessary for its subsistence. The result of this expected fellowship, despite the opposition of the free and independent press, was limiting the credibility and transparency of some newspapers and was leading to the decline of its local and regional position among its readers.
In addition to this relation between the press and the financial capital, which deviates from the foundations and principles of free media, the Lebanese press came face to face with another problem, its relation with the political authority, with respect to its independence and freedom. It is common knowledge that the press in democratic regimes is a fourth authority, whose performance can hardly be separated from that of the other three authorities. Any disturbance that might come about any of them, especially the judicial and legislative authorities, will reflect negatively on the general media activity. This fact led to the drawing up of certain “red lines” and to a decline in the practice of the freedom of the press and its performance. This disappointing situation was condemned by Lebanese religious, media and legislative authorities and bodies, in addition to regional and international media and legal institutions.
It should be noted that there are some daily political newspapers that are affiliated to some confessions and political parties, while the Maronite Church seems to be absent from this map of Arabic political dailies. It is also worth noting that recession has affected the daily press, especially magazines and periodicals. Their role became marginalized in the media map while a new kind of entertainment magazines based on gossip and news of artists is gaining ground in the aim of attracting readers. Consequently, the role of such kind of written media seems confined to material and promotional objectives, without covering the religious or spiritual or moral issues.
2. The Audiovisual Media in Lebanon: State of Affairs
The law regulating the audiovisual media, including satellite broadcasting, has contributed in “regulating” the situation in this new sector. However, this organization remained lacking due to the distribution of licenses on a political and confessional basis, and not according to contemporary technical, cultural and financial criteria that are adopted internationally and that go in par with the needs, reality and resources of the country.
The same applies to the distribution of radio stations. Even if some of the owners of these television and radio stations belong to the Maronite Church and allocate a part of their programs to religious occasions and religious issues, some of which are local productions that deserve to be applauded, their primary concern remains confined to the logic of the market and to ideological principles in order to attract audience and to guarantee commercial income, as per the requirements of the establishment’s best interest. It is worth noting here that the station considered as Christian with respect to its owners is the one most likely to show scenes of provocative nature, and foreign movies staging scenes of violence and promoting values that contradict with the Christian values, while such programs seem to be absent from other local and Muslim Arab stations.
The religious subject is never absent from the general secular television and radio stations, but it is often limited to certain liturgical ceremonies, rituals and occasions; bearing in mind that the margin of freedom of these stations remains limited due to the present situation, which came to the point of closing down a television station, stopping programs on others and practicing different kinds of pressure. Furthermore, we should shed light on the regional and international dimension of the Lebanese broadcasting stations through their satellite broadcasting. But, in light of the present decline, their emergence in the arena of competition with Arab satellite broadcasting stations has shown that freedom remains the indispensable factor for the success of every station and for its ability to compete and influence. This is evident today in new Arab stations that are profiting from a larger margin of freedom; and this fact threatens the pioneering position of the Lebanese media unless the Lebanese, especially the Maronites, will remedy their weak spots to regain their natural role, which has always been a distinctive asset of the Lebanese democratic system.
A work mechanism is elemental in this context through which the Church and its institutions can cooperate with these stations in order to solve issues of human dimensions which the Arab viewer, in general, rallies around, along with Christian and global values, such as the situation of the woman, the sanctity of the family, education, justice, social and environmental issues and basic rights.
The prestigious position of foreign satellite broadcasting stations on the Lebanese media map is not to be overlooked, especially with the spread of satellite dishes, cables and internet. Some studies have shown that the viewer rate of these stations, among Lebanese families, is very high. Even though this might be culturally enriching, it encloses grave dangers that threaten the Christian family and its values in view of what these media channels are promoting: pornographic movies, music and programs that promote violence, pleasure, atheism and anti-Christian feelings. Sometimes they even promote sects and rituals that disfigure Christian symbols and dogmas.
We are also aware of the internet, email and software explosion related to this new technology. These technologies, with the possibilities they offer to communicate, exchange information and bridge distances, can form a threat on our youth if they are used irresponsibly. That is why, we should take into consideration the importance of these means that are developing in an astronomical manner and that will most probably sum up all multimedia in one, because they gather in their structure the elements of press, television, radio, telephone and others. This makes them an urgent and basic need in all fields. From here stems the importance of studying the means by which we can benefit from the features of these technologies and how to avoid their negative impact without violating the freedom of the press. These fast growing technologies are being closely followed by the Church, which sees in them “a true human arena” that should not be abandoned because of the multifaceted spiritual, moral and social responsibilities attached to them, and which requires the ecclesiastical, educational and legislative bodies to pay close attention to them.
Second : Religious Media in Lebanon: State of Affairs
1. Written Religious Press
Written Maronite religious press, in Lebanon and abroad, is centralized in magazines, periodicals and publications by different ecclesiastical units, such as parishes, dioceses, orders, apostolic movements, and civil organizations. All of the latter amount today to approximately one hundred Christian periodical in Lebanon alone, most of which are Maronite. It is worth noting here that the secular press allocates large spaces for religious news via a comprehensive coverage of the news of religious figures – some of these newspapers allocate entire pages to issues related to religions and confessions. This allows a daily coverage of all social and religious news, which provides a sort of daily contact between the pastors and the believers. This stems from the openness of the secular press to the opinion of the other and to the presence of Christian, specifically Maronite, journalists in the different kinds of press, especially those that are published abroad. There are a number of prominent Maronite journalists that work in different Arabic-speaking media institutions in the five continents. They form a distinguished power group, if ever the Church was capable of cooperating with them for a true and effective Maronite testimony.
For example, a recent study have shown that Maronite periodicals could play a more efficient role if they are provided with a unified project that bonds them together and with a comprehensive pastoral vision that deals with the issues of the Church and the society. Perhaps, it would be beneficial if we develop the professional aspect of these periodicals so as to meet all the conditions of a good performance in form and content. It is also favorable to develop their role to surpass the mere coverage of pastoral activities to send forth the voice of the parish and the pastor, this way dialogue will be integrated and enriched and will not be denominated as sermonic press, which is far from solving the main issues. By activating this sector of the media, we will be making it eligible to become of significant influence and to raise a reliable Maronite or Christian sense of awareness in forming public opinion – or at least to participate in it – and to contribute in making the believer a live member in the body of the Church and the citizen an active member in the body of the society. Accordingly, this excessive energy is waiting to be exploited wisely so as to reap its yearned spiritual and social fruits in support of constructive dialogue and participation in the different social issues.
2. Audiovisual Religious Media
In the framework of what we have denominated as “media explosion” and that appeared during the war, two projects for a Christian television and radio station were established. The “Radio Charity” station was founded in 1984 and the “Télé Lumière” television project was paving its way in 1990. Then, came the law for the regulation of the audiovisual and satellite broadcasting media, according to which the Lebanese government gave the Church the right to broadcast on a wavelength of one of the public radio stations under the name “Radio Charity – Lebanon Broadcasting Station” and on a public television channel under the name “Télé Lumière – Télé Liban”, and that in the framework of a special regulation governing religious media and that included all the confessions. As per the ministerial decree, the Lebanese government affiliated both broadcasting stations to the Assembly of Catholic Patriarchs and Bishops, which held the right to supervise, guide and intervene when necessary. Today, it could be said that these two stations have achieved tangible results.
On the missionary level they formed an answer to a phenomenon of faith that is growing day by day. On the technological level, their broadcasting abilities have increased and improved so that voice and picture are reaching today all Lebanese regions and some regions in neighboring countries and countries of emigration. This, in addition to using modern technologies that allowed for a global satellite coverage, which will present a valuable Christian testimony to Lebanon and other countries. We could even say that these two stations have become a vital need, for they have become part of the daily habits of a vast section of believers from all religions, confessions and intellectual currents. However, in order to subsist and continue, they need to be supported on the legal level, which seems to be fragile in view of the present Lebanese legislations, on the financial level due to the absence of a constant mechanism that can free them from subjectivity, or and the human level due to their large dependence on voluntary work, which threatens the stability of the media work and which is far from the professionalism needed in this context, despite some successful programs that are to be applauded.
Those two projects are essential to the Christian media structure in Lebanon and in the countries of emigration. The importance of “Télé Lumière” lies in its pivotal role vis-à-vis groups of viewers from different Lebanese factions and confessions. So, since it is addressing a Lebanese, Middle Eastern and international audience, after one year of satellite broadcasting, it should not limit its interest in serving the Christian viewers alone. Rather, its programs should transcend religious affairs to deal with human, moral, spiritual and ecumenical issues. It should form a rostrum for dialogue among religions and confessions and an avant-garde laboratory for intellectual and social currents in Lebanon and the region. The same applies to the “Radio Charity” station, which should be encouraged to be more efficient and active in order to cater to the cultural and spiritual needs of the society.
On the other hand, in what concerns these two stations, it would be beneficial to study the target audience and to allocate programs for all groups of listeners, especially the children and the youth, due to the dangers and temptations they are facing and that might lure them away from the authentic religious spirit. Those two stations can play a guiding educational and communicational role that might not be undertaken by other stations due to commercial and political objectives of the latter.
In addition to broadcasted and televised media, and with the spread of information technology, especially internet and email, since the mid 90’s, some institutions, bodies and Maronite apostolic movements in Lebanon, the patriarchal domain and the different countries of emigration began establishing websites, some of which are related to the Assembly of Catholic Patriarchs and Bishops in Lebanon and Episcopal committees emanating from it, in addition to several sites for a number of parishes, parishioners, orders, educational and social institutions, towns and villages; and we would like to mention in this context the website of the Maronite Patriarchal Synod:
www.maronitesynod.org. These sites are increasing astronomically and are becoming means of communication and information for everybody all over the world due to the information they are offering: religious, historical, cultural, traditional researches, hymns, icons, pictures, texts, etc…
This new field of media is predisposed to greatness and to playing an important role in our contemporary life. However, it still lacks experience and suffers from disorganization. This requires a project of cooperation and coordination on more than one level. Bearing in mind the advantages of this means of communication, it can serve the Maronite Church and all its parishes, parishioners and sons that are scattered in the different regions of the world; thus forming a priceless link that will strengthen the ties of communication between the members of the Church and its institutions wherever they may be.
4. Ecclesiastic Institutions and Media
Media is not confined to the traditional and modern channels that are commonly known and acknowledged. Media in its broadest sense is a means for culture, education, theater, cinema, etc…Lebanon has witnessed since the 60’s, and in the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council, a phenomenon that came to life in the form of media establishments represented by committees and centers specialized in media, religious and pastoral research inside the churches or groups of churches in Lebanon and the Middle East. These establishments, in addition to public and private universities that prepare students to receive diplomas in mass media, documentation, advertising, public relations, audiovisual, theater, popular tradition, art, literature, human sciences, are important pit stops in the formation of the upcoming generation that will work in this distinguished field that goes in par with the historical vocation of Lebanon in order to turn it into a forum for dialogue, gathering, exchange and coexistence.
The existence of all of these institutions and establishments that deal with media and communication, among them private Maronite establishments, reiterates the flourishing role of this sector and the attention ecclesiastic and national institutions are giving it. But the practical and field translation of its role remains limited because of the distribution of these activities and the absence of a mechanism that links them together; rather, the competition, the lack of cooperation and the absence of any mechanism of coordination and planning, as is the case today, is a factor of squandering of financial, human and moral resources. That is why, the activation of the Maronite media establishments requires a minimum level of cooperation between them, then between them and the rest of the media establishments, especially Catholic ones, in order to pave the way for the promotion of Catholic and ecumenical dialogue in a framework of respect of the different traditions. This cooperation could be developed to participate through it in issues that are important for the secular and ecclesiastical public opinion in a spirit of constructive dialogue, professionalism, morality, spiritual and cultural maturity away from a mentality entrenched in hegemony and monopoly and according to the objective principles of the media profession and the essence of the Christian mission.
Chapter III : Vision and Suggestions for the Maronite Media
First : The Vision of the Media with Respect to the Apostolic Exhortation “A New Hope for Lebanon”
The media issue will not come full circle except through a clear vision of the nature of the mission and a proper planning of its work mechanism. Perhaps it is appropriate in this context to shed light on the priorities that were suggested in the apostolic exhortation “A New Hope for Lebanon”, in view of what the deep synodal experience entailed of contemplation and soul searching over a period of more than five years for the aim of rebirth and renewal in the hearts and the establishments. In many of its sections, the exhortation highlighted the subject of the media and the necessity of caring for it as an essential field of the Christian mission. Among the superior objectives it emphasized were education, new evangelization, the moral and spiritual values related to them and the principles on which media work should be based on, especially the principle of “truth as basis of human dignity”. After commending some media initiatives undertaken by the Church in Lebanon, the Exhortation pointed out to the importance of a media upbringing through the “formation of the critical spirit in adults and the youth” and that in order to face the quantum number of messages broadcasted by contemporary media and that suggests that everything which is being advertised or broadcasted is proper behavior or conduct. This will lead to the spread of relative moralities that contradict with the morals of Evangelical Beatifications. On the other hand, the Apostolic Exhortation indicated the necessity of establishing a “communication network” between all Church authorities, bearing in mind the confusion taking place in Lebanon, so as to transform what it considered as an impediment into a state of grace. What applies to Lebanon is of course applicable to all the Maronite reality in its different contexts and levels throughout the world.
By that the exhortation would have defined the most important objectives of Christian media in Lebanon with what it requires of planning, cooperation and coordination in the framework of a “global pastoral plan that encompasses all the relevant fields…and that will lead to the adoption of decisions beneficial to all”. If promulgated, this plan will revive the “prophetic voice” that could be echoed in Lebanon and in the world, carrying through proper and modern media channels the Lebanese and Maronite message as a Christian and global ideal for ecumenical dialogue, a Christian Muslim dialogue and an inter-religious and intercultural dialogue in this “global village” of which Lebanon is a miniature model through the coexistence reigning among its confessions and its different intellectual currents.
Second : Integration of the Maronite Media in both its Religious and Secular Sectors
The general objectives defined by the Apostolic Exhortation for the ecclesiastic media is also applicable to secular media. It is vital that this secular media – especially the Maronite secular media –adopt these objectives particularly since it has a wider range of coverage and since its number of viewers, readers and listeners is by folds greater than those of the religious media. But, the objectives of secular media might contradict sometimes, in its essence, with the objectives of religious media. That is because the former is often owned by private establishments that seek material profit to ensure their subsistence or to promote dogmas and intellectual systems. In addition to that, the Arab advertiser, including the Lebanese one, has a great impact on defining the commercial or informative content and form, meaning that the media channels, even those owned by Maronite and Christian parties, could find themselves obliged to excise everything that might be related to Christian mottos and values in order to attract and satisfy the advertiser. Furthermore, cultural and educational programs of hortatory and guiding objectives are not highly popular, which compels the media establishments to cut down on them and to search for more appealing and profitable programs. That is why we have to actualize the guidelines and recommendations of the apostolic exhortation “New Hope for Lebanon” in order to achieve the objectives of the Christian media in Lebanon.
Third : Towards a Distinguished Role for the Maronite Media through official "Public" Media
Considering the difficulty of establishing secular media institutions capable of carrying the Christian values and of freeing themselves from the influence of the market and commercial money, and since the society is in dire need for a media of a human and cultural essence, it seems necessary to pay heed to the state-owned media, known as “official media”, in Lebanon. In general, this media has both a concept and a role that differ according to the governing political systems. In democratic regimes, these channels are known as public media that aim at serving the general public and it is free, to a certain extent, from subordination to the governing authority. In third world regimes, these channels are called official media, whose mission is to broadcast the views of the ruling government and to market its policies.
Since “public media” tends to free itself from any kind of heteronomy to the ruling government and the market forces, and since it is funded by the public sector, it is distinguished by the promotion of cultural and educational programs and is not obliged to take recourse in elements of provocation or cheap attraction. Accordingly, the role that could be undertaken by state-owned media – if it forfeits its commercial and propagandist role – is spreading the national, humanistic and cultural values that form the basis of the society inspired – in the case of the Maronites – by the postulates of tradition, history, rich experiences, future aspirations, and of course the common Lebanese Maronite values.
Fourth : Maronite Media and its Role in the Civil Society
In view of the dangerous and risky role of the media, many democratic countries have undertaken initiatives to control the possible liberal tendencies of these channels by establishing a “counter authority”, whose role is to control the work mechanism of these channels and to hold them accountable. The democratic society tends towards the formation of lobbying tools that can work in two directions. First, towards the political authority in order to urge it to promulgate appropriate laws; second, towards media institutions in order to force them to abide by certain moral standards that would ensure everyone’s safety. This “counter authority” leans towards playing the role of a fifth authority whose mission is to control the fourth authority. It is made up of the forces of the society such as the civil societies, media and social watch organizations; in addition to that, some countries establish “national media councils” of a consultative and decision making nature that work along the same lines.
In Lebanon and the patriarchal domain we are still lacking in non-governmental and non-religious organizations that might play the role of the “counter authority” despite certain shy attempts to establish media observatories by some associations. This is due to the absence of initiatives on behalf of the forces of the civil society to influence the contents of the media and to the absence of specialized newspapers and magazines that might play the role of a critic that would illuminate the audience in the process of his choice making. In this context, it is worth noting that the role of the “National Council for Audiovisual Media” in Lebanon is an official mechanism, which was inspired from the media organization of some Western countries to control and guide the audiovisual media. However, this council is faced with a number of obstacles, especially ones related to the appointment of its members and its scope of competence that does not exceed the consultative scope. The Maronite Church and the Maronite community could play a pioneering and leading role on this level be it through the official institution or through the non-governmental institutions for control and accountability, which could be encouraged by the Maronite Church and nurtured through the development of a positive critical sense and spiritual, moral and ethical foundations of Christian media.
Fifth : Spiritual and Moral Christian Values and the Media
Media and communication channels have worked on auto-censoring their work based on the necessity of raising awareness to their role and mission in the society. That is why media establishments, unions and associations have established a “code of honor” or ethical charters on the obligations of journalists and their rights that include moral and ethical principles that would govern the profession and the professionals. This code aims at guaranteeing a professional performance and at protecting the communicator from the threats of deviating from proper rules of conduct and from being lured by different temptations or putting personal interest before public interest, and from violating the foundations of the media: truth, freedom, justice and love.
Most codes and charters emphasize global values such as the respect of life and cooperation among people, in addition to basic prohibitions such as lying and manipulating minds at the expense of truth, which is the basis of human dignity. It also encourages communicators to abide by certain moral principles such as honesty, independence, objectivity, preciseness in covering the news, justice, courage, etc…Furthermore, the UNESCO and some international organizations and institutions have adopted charters that fall within the same frame.
The Catholic Church in its turn, and through numerous pontifical bulls, has encouraged unions and media associations to draft such charters in order to set the priorities and rules of the profession and to abide by them. Among these documents, the letter addressed by Pope John Paul II on the occasion of World Day for Communication in 2003 stressed the relation between the media and the values of truth, justice, freedom and love and it emphasized the following:
Media and communication channels often “serve the truth courageously”, but they sometimes tend to work as tools for propaganda and misleading information campaigns.
Justice is always served through hones and truthful media work that conveys the different point of views and avoids the instigation of national, religious and ethnic conflicts.
Freedom is promoted as long as the media conveys facts honestly and truthfully and as long as it does not fall prey to the interests of the rich and the political power, does not become the victim of lies and does not provoke negative reactions to certain events. The Church has always stressed the fact that the true story helps in liberating the human being while the false story is a means that leads to blindness and enslavement.
Love is the basis for peace. Communicators are all invited to contribute in bringing forth peace in all the regions of the world by breaking obstacles of caution, by taking the opinion of other into consideration, and by encouraging peoples and countries to respect one another, to make peace and to have mercy. “True peace among nations is not related to the balance of weapon ownership and distribution as much as it is related to mutual trust”.
Sixth : Spirituality of the Maronite and Morality of Maronite Communicators
Maronite Syriac spirituality revolves around Christ the “Word”, the liberator, and the only “mediator” between God and Man; through his sacred body and the one Church, the human and divine institution is one.
The Maronite communicator should follow the example of Christ, who said to his disciples, “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’” (Mat. 5:37); and who taught us that media and communication are a moral and spiritual job by revealing to us through his testimony on Earth that he is the best communicator through his teachings, actions, and his identification of those to whom he addressed his message: specially the poor, the meek, the sick and the oppressed, by declaring his good news with determination to the world and its authorities without any compromise on the expense of truth he came to bear (John 18:37). He offered himself by dying on the Cross. “No guile was found on his lips” (1 Peter 2-22) and no “evil talk…but only such as is good for edifying, as fits the occasion, that it may impart grace to those who hear.” (Ephesians 4:29). The Maronite communicator should be inspired in his respect for the truth by God the Father, the source of all truth and who will guide you into all the truth (John 16:13). Thus, the communicator commits to abiding by the truth when he finds it and organizes his journalistic work according to it. He seeks it passionately and practices it in honest, human and ethical actions through integrity, honesty and sincerity, all the while steering away from the trap of duplicity, boastfulness hypocrisy, lie, falsehood, deceit and any kind of talk that might disfigure the truth and might harm the reputation of others such as slander and defamation. The manipulation of minds contradicts with the transparent Christian testimony, destroys the trust between people and leads to schisms and to the tearing apart of the fabric of relations.
The Maronite communicator, whether working in Lebanon or abroad, should abide by the codes and charters of the institutions and unions in which he is working. He should also abide by the principles and teachings of the Catholic Church. But, the belonging of the Maronite communicator to the Church compels him to commit to certain spiritual and cultural characteristics and principles. Considering that Maronite communicators are distributed among a large number of media channels of different missions, it seems indispensable to define a series of values that could be adopted by the different sources of media regardless of their religious or civil affiliation. These values go in par with the values voiced in the apostolic exhortation “A New Hope for Lebanon” and other documents pertaining to the teachings of the Church and Christian traditions, especially the Maronite and Eastern ones, which form the cultural and theological basis for every journalistic work.
a- Being inspired by Maronite spirituality in the practice of journalistic work, by committing to the causes of the Maronite Church that include religious and temporal affairs, so as to guarantee the unity of vision and objectives.
b- Committing to the causes of the mother land, Lebanon, by encouraging and promoting the values on which it is based: national belonging, pluralism, co-existence, private and public liberties, etc…
c- Promoting the Lebanese social values: sanctity of the family, dignity of the woman and her equality with the man, modesty, brotherhood, solidarity, hospitality, conviction, embracing the land, respecting the traditions of the fathers and the forefathers, accepting the other, preserving heritage, respecting the environment, etc…
d- Fostering values of development and culture: love and spread of knowledge, interest in science and education, openness to other cultures, encouraging progress and social advancement, improvement of the standard of life and human comfort, continuous quest to play a pioneering role in the cultural renaissance, entrenchment in Arabic Eastern culture with openness to other cultures and religions.
e- Opposing materialistic media that promotes materialist culture based on promoting values such as consumption, pleasure and imposition, which lures in its web the Maronite youth and others and alienates them from their identity and threatens their fiducial roots.
Seventh : Work Mechanism to Activate Maronite Media
Based on the aforementioned presentation on the state of affairs of the media and its role in the contemporary society and based on the state of affairs of the Lebanese and Maronite Media, it is indispensable to establish a mechanism that aims at activating this media so as to go in par with the vision of the Maronite Church, which stems from the current Patriarchal Council in order to become an efficient tool that helps the Church in achieving its goals. This mechanism is built on five levels of action:
1. Study of the State of Affairs
It seems indispensable for us to study the state of affairs of the Maronite media in order to pave the way to practical suggestions that might contribute in the development of its performance. Hence, it is important to implement a general and methodological survey on the work of the Maronite media in the regions housing Maronites in the world. This study includes:
Performing a methodological and scientific survey of the Maronite media and social communication channels, such newspapers, periodicals and others in Lebanon and the countries of emigration. Establishing a mechanism of cooperation among the latter. Reviving the patriarchal magazine so as to act as a link between them similar to the role played by the magazine of the Apostolic See in the Vatican.
Implementing a survey that would include all Maronite communicators in Lebanon and in the countries of emigration. Establishing a communication and exchange network that will enable them to exchange opinions and to cooperate amongst themselves and with others in order to improve their performance.
Surveying all media institutions or any institution related to mass media, communication, audiovisual, theater and computer; and establishing a communication and exchange network between them. Encouraging the outstanding students of these institutions to further their higher specialization; and bridging the gap in this field.
2. Structural Organization
a. Establishing a Higher Council for Media aiming at media planning. This Council could play the role of a moral authority in Maronite media and a link between the projects of the Church and those of the competent press. This Council follows up the different media, especially the Maronite one, in order to activate these channels and provide them with practical suggestions and support them via a funding suitable funding plan in order to stop these channels from relying on aids, donations and volunteer work.
b. Promoting and establishing Maronite centers for documentation, research and studies to serve scholars, researchers, communicators and decision-makers and that coordinate with a patriarchal media center, whose mission is to watch the secular press and study its trends. Encouraging constructive publishing and reviving the Maronite heritage through the modernization of the present archiving and documentation centers and surveying the manuscripts of Bkerke and monasteries and institutions in Lebanon and abroad; this will allow researchers and communicators to access and study them.
c. Establishing a patriarchal watch for basic liberties and human rights.
d. Establishing a press center that acts as a link between the Maronites in Lebanon and the Maronites in countries of emigration.
e. Promoting or establishing media and communication in the parishes and communities of the countries of emigration that foster communication and interaction between the Maronite emigrants, on one hand, and between them and the Mother Church on the other hand.
f. Establishing a work team made up of authors, directors, musicians, scholars and artists in order to produce a Maronite journalistic and cultural vision.
3. Following Up with the Media Society
a. Encouraging the laity and the civil society to form associations and organizations that deal with media and communication in order to follow it up and to organize a conscientious watch so as to ensure a professional performance.
b. Giving the necessary attention to the presence of Maronite media inside media and communication institutions and in the institutions of higher education, the Ministry of Media and Communications, the National Council for the Media, the Syndicates of Journalism and Editors, etc…
c. Re-examining the role of the official media in Lebanon, especially “Télé Liban” and “Radio Liban”; and working on promoting them in the context of humanistic values and away from religious media exclusively.
d. Putting the Maronite media in the service of the principle causes and issues that are of importance to the Church and the Maronite community: emigration, education, family, woman, human rights, etc…
4. Professional Recommendations
37. a. Promoting or founding a Maronite religious and secular media network (periodical, newspaper, news agency, website, television station, radio station – if possible) governed by the Maronite patriarchate. This network will be a mirror and a rostrum for the Maronite public, will reflect their state of affairs and will draw up future horizons.
b. Establishing a company for the distribution of Christian and Maronite periodicals.
c. Establishing a committee to supervise the religious publications.
d. Promoting or founding a periodical specialized in inter-religious and intercultural dialogue and affiliating it to universities and institutions of higher education.
e. In view of the role played by the websites and the easy and cost effective manner of establishing such sites, it is essential to encourage them, especially if they are able to form a meeting place for Maronites wherever they are and a valuable source of information; in addition to its usage for providing specialized services on different levels.
f. Presenting moral and financial support to “Télé Lumière” and the “Radio Charity” radio station and redefining the journalistic mission of each.
g. Following up ecclesiastical periodicals and magazines in order to define their role, to activate them and to coordinate between them.
h. Adopting the principle of diversity in the journalistic work, considering it is a source of richness.
5. Media Education
38. a. Laying stress on the media education and raising awareness with respect to the means of media and communication and including them in the priorities of the educational curricula and the pastoral programs. This education includes all groups concerned with these mediums starting from children and youth to parents, clergymen and all other groups of beneficiaries.
b. Raising the Maronite communicator in the spirit of sanctity so as the media will become forums of truthful testimonies, in addition to the best levels of professional and moral competence.
c. It is not necessary that the positions of directors and editors-in-chief in the Maronite press be confined to clergymen; there is no objection to having the latter undertake tasks of supervision and spiritual guidance, on condition that competence be the principle criteria in every choice.
d. Encouraging quality production in faculties of mass media and communication and media institutions so as they might reflect the Christian virtues and values; and organizing honorary prizes for that.
39. The Maronite identity, after 1600 years since its inception in this Middle Eastern region, the cradle of Christianity, and after enrooting in Lebanon, the message land and the land of sanctity, and on the onset of the third millennium, and with the deep transformation that the world is witnessing, finds itself facing crucial challenges. Hence, mass media and communication networks, with their prophetic and structural role in the formation of contemporary societies should contribute in meeting these challenges and in helping the Maronite Church meet its calling and achieve its aspirations.
40. When the networks of media and communication are still witnessing a technological revolution that is turning the world into a global village, it is indispensable to own them and acquaint ourselves with them. For, this is a main condition to ensure existence, in the first place, and to achieve goals, in the second place. Perhaps their positive role will remain lacking unless it becomes integrated with the ethics of journalism profession and unless it carries in its essence humanistic values. The Church recommended we confer great attention to these means due to their ability to carry the message of the Gospel and to being an adequate tool for evangelization; and it also stressed the values of truth, freedom, justice and love, which are values that form a meeting point between these means and the Church and its Biblical testimony.
41. These means seem worthy today to serve the Maronite Church through their contribution in linking the different Maronite communities spread all over the world. In addition to that, their have a role to carry forth the Maronite message, such that internal communication is established, vertically between the pastor and the parish, horizontally between all members and groups of the Church, and external communication is achieved between the Maronite Church, pastors, believers, institutions and the entire world.
The Maronite Church today is asked to persevere in the development of its diverse journalistic means and to develop its human resources in this field, so that it can benefit from them in service of its causes, especially in the field of spreading the spiritual and social values, which the Maronites hold dear, such as pluralism, public and private liberties, defending values of citizenship, and others.
This way the Maronite Church will ensure its historical and cultural role in spreading values, especially those of freedom of speech and creed. Accordingly, the intellectual and social enlightenment it is aspiring to achieve, in Lebanon and the surrounding Arab countries, will be fulfilled and it will, thus, contribute in the development of the region and the progress of its peoples. As a result the good news of salvation, supported by the media, will become a fountain of strength, joy and hope to all. Only then will the saying that Beit Maroun “flourish like the palm tree, and grow like a cedar in Lebanon” (Ps. 92:13) be true.