Following the COVID-19 lockdowns, CAMECO was asked by Radio Veritas Asia, a former shortwave radio providing pastoral information in 22 Asian languages that over the last five years fully shifted its operation to online-platforms, to discuss the current situation. Despite the many organisational challenges and concerns in the face of an accelerating incidence of infections, RVA took the decision to not slow down their operation, but to put their digital communication channels to the use of the Asian Church, to maintain contact with their community, and to uphold the conversation with the community. RVA had increased its streaming service of Masses and worshiping online, opened online prayer boxes for their users’ worries and intercessions to be considered during the Masses, and some services also arranged contact to priests online. Some Bishops in Myanmar have been making intensive use of the RVA teams, who were on standby to help the Bishop uphold communication with the Catholic community during the lockdowns.
It is almost five years since Radio Veritas, in their 2015 General Assembly, took the difficult decision to discontinue their shortwave broadcast to the Asian continent and transform to a new online service, after many international broadcasters had already dismantled their shortwave transmitter stations over previous years, in response to digitalisation. In June 2018, RVA finally switched off the shortwave broadcast and started fully operating as an online portal. After almost 50 years of shortwave broadcast, this transformation was a challenging, painful, but also liberating process.
The constraints of the pandemic in recent month had an important internal organisational effect on the process of this difficult transformation. It boosted collaboration among the 22 language services spread all over Asia, through more intensive and regular use of video conference meetings in various formats and at various levels. The new way of organisation-wide communication through the net included meetings of the RVA service coordinators, online producers in general, as well as special interest groups that exchanged, for example, on the production of graphics, storytelling, etc. RVA also carried out staff courses on how to deal with the mental load and stress in the current situation, on news writing and, jointly with CAMECO, a workshop on developing so called Personas (a tool to better understand the variety of significant user segments). Training on improving the video production skills is in planning.
In previous monitoring visits, CAMECO was often told by RVA staff that the services worked insulated, that exchange and horizontal learning was lacking and many RVA editors perceived a disconnect between the head office in Manila and the offices in the field. We now see that inter-office communication has improved, organisation-wide initiatives are better understood and supported and, although communication in a video conference is limited and somehow cumbersome, their regular use seems to make RVA staff feel they are “on the same page” more than before. It is a paradox that the decentralised teams grow better together as “one RVA” in the moment that the lockdown confined them to their offices and working from home.
The experience with RVA might also be mirroring the effect the lockdown is having on the use of digital communication tools in other parts of the Church. The new and globally similar situation, the risk of infecting oneself or others through face-to-face communication, has made digital and social media the method of choice for many pastoral workers to continue their work under the current constraints. Digital tools offer ways to address individuals, groups and whole communities. Despite their limitations and negative side effects (fake news, hate speech, etc.) the current situation might also lead to more experiments and to discovering the particular strengths and potentials of digital communication tools that are often treated as a third option in pastoral communication. It will be interesting to see whether the pandemic has broken some ice and barriers, and will have a longer lasting effect in the way the Church is making use of social media. (MU)