In the Philippines media scene, a far-reaching Catholic radio network has been building communities and changing lives for decades.
“We cater to the needs of the local communities but come together as one,” Father Francis Lucas, president of Catholic Media Network, told CNA. He described the network as “the only community-based radio network” in the country.
“Our motto is ‘Bringing the message of Hope’ to the Filipino nation,” he said.
The network launched in 1969 with 11 radio stations. It has grown to 54 AM and FM radio stations plus three small television stations, with a collective potential audience of 70 million people.
“Our best and most popular radio shows are the Mass and the liturgy,” said Lucas. The stations hold on-air retreats and recollections. They cover national religious celebrations, international Catholic events and papal and Vatican news.
The network provides other news and information, plus music and children’s programming. Programming topics include agriculture, the environment, family issues, daily life, and youth-focused discussions.
According to Lucas, the network has had a great impact. He recounted the story of a woman living in a remote part of the country who graduated from one of the network’s on-air radio school courses in agriculture – and then visited the station to talk about its impact.
“She walked from the mountain to the radio station travelling almost a day, walking, crossing rivers, riding on the back of motorcycles just to reach the town,” he reported. “She said without the radio she could never have become a good farmer, learned how to take care of her animals, known the prices of her product and have had many friends on the airwaves.
“She goes to Mass listening to the radio station and listens to the podcasts, Bible discussions, entertainment and life values,” the priest said.
The radio station hadn’t realized its influence in the lives of the people who live in remote areas, where the radio was, in Lucas’ words, “their window to the wide world beyond the mountains.”
The network has also had an impact in more dangerous parts of the country.
“CMN radio stations, we are proud to say, are in areas where ‘angels dare not tread’,” Lucas explained. “We help the government as we promote evangelization in trying to keep the peace.
“Even during martial law, many of our radios stations became bridges in bilateral conflicts between the government and rebel militias,” he said. “Many lives were saved through the intervention of bishops, military and rebels using our radio stations.”
The media network’s wide audience is not limited to Catholics.
“The CMN network covers the whole Philippines From Abra in the north to the southern tip, Jolo and Tawi Tawi,” Lucas continued. “There, we have a Muslim manager since the majority of the population is Muslim. Our radio stations there are the purveyors of development, education, and peaceful coexistence. Religion is respected and prayers are said for all the religions.”
The network contracts with government agencies to support climate change management as well as disaster preparation. Its programs have advocated a drug-free life and reported on the pernicious effects of drug addiction, Lucas said. The network also works to counter illegal gambling and corruption.
According to the network, 29 of the 54 stations operate under the franchise the Philippines’ Congress has allotted to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines.
An application to renew the franchise on these 29 stations has been submitted to the legislature.
The proposed legislation that would grant the application extension acknowledges the importance of the media network, Ucanews.com reports. It recognized the bishops’ propagation of various apostolates, charitable works, value formation, good governance, and the “promotion of good news of God through Catholic doctrines, good values and good virtues.” It works for “the benefit and goodness of the Philippines as a nation.”
The bill acknowledges the Catholic bishops’ use of radio and television to report major news events including natural disasters, the “People’s Power Revolutions” of 1986 and 2000, and the visit of Church leaders to the country.