The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) established in 1944 has considered social communication as one of the important dimensions of its mission in India. The General Body meeting of the CBCI held in October 1966 in New Delhi established the Commission for Social Communications with Bishop L.T. Picachy SJ, of Jamshedpur as Chairman, and Bishop Alphonsus Mathias of Chikmagalur and Bishop Longinus Pereira, Auxiliary Bishop of Bombay as members (RGBM 1966). Even prior to that already in 1951 the Standing Committee discussed plans for starting a national Catholic daily newspaper, regional weekly, a Catholic news cable service.
One of the he first tasks of the Commission was “to arouse in the minds of Catholics the immense potentialities of mass media in the service of the Church.” A short, direct appeal was published in the Catholic press. The first meeting of the Commission, chaired by Bishop Picachy was held at Jamshedpur in April 1967. A national commission, known as CONTAC, which spelt out as the “Catholic Organisation for News, Television, Air-waves and Cinema” with twenty members was constituted. The commission comprised of three Bishops, nine priests, one nun, two lay women and five laymen. Its objectives included:
The Jamshedpur meeting proposed to conduct an all India survey on social communications. The participants discussed the possibility of setting up a radio and TV centre in India to train personnel. It was also decided to appoint a National Director for the Commission. The Standing Committee entrusted to the Commission the task of discussing the feasibility and mode of celebrating the World Communication Day, established by Vatican II.
The meeting also identified tasks ahead, such as:
1 strengthening and coordinating the apostolate of the press
2 the possibility of establishing a production centre for Radio and TV. It was noted that Fr. Becker had made some commendable start for cinema. It was also felt that the most practical way would be to attach this production centre to one of the existing Catholic colleges, as was successfully done in USA, Taiwan and Philippines.
3The feasibility of accepting the generous offer of Radio Veritas to give India a full hour’s programme daily. The programs would be recorded in India and sent to Manila for transmission.
4 Some experts had noted that TV would be the most important instrument of the future. It stressed the importance of training human resource for media, and the need to be prepared to take on television when it comes to India within a short time. The meeting also noted the interest in media shown by seminarians and young priests, some of whom are undergoing training. The meeting felt the need to train some sisters too in media.
The meeting underlined the need for setting up diocesan committees which should work in unison with CONTAC, and appealed for donations to support the media ministry of the CBCI. It reviewed the media scenario in the country and the changes on the horizon, and called for the urgency of being prepared to face the future.
At the CBCI General Body meeting held at Ernakulum in 1970, it was decided to shift the secretariat of the Commission for Social Communications to New Delhi. The Communication Commission was urged to be closely associated with the PR department. The meeting unanimously passed the following resolution:
“ It was resolved that at the national level there should be a Centre at Delhi for collecting and disseminating information among all concerned and for fostering public relations.
In his report Archbishop Picachy, Chairman of the Commission informed that a post graduate institute for social communications media was being planned. The resolutions included
-appointment of Fr McFarland SJ as the Secretary of the Commission, and Fr Tony Luiz svd as assistant
-shifting of the secretariat of the Commission from Jamshedpur to New Delhi
-decision to conduct a feasibility survey and to establish a training institute at Bombay
- to establish a pilot educational TV project at Jamshedpur
-to celebrate the World Communications Day on the last Sunday of February, and to share equally the collection made on the Sunday between the dioceses and the CBCI Commission (GM,1970).
In response to the proposal to establish a training institute, in the same year, the Institute of Communication Arts was established at St. Xavier’s College, Bombay (GM 1971). In 1981, the Catholic news agency called South Asian Regional News (SAR News) was started in New Delhi under the auspices of the Indian Catholic Press Association. SAR News was recognised as an independent Catholic news agency. In 1987 to give expression to the views and opinion of the Christian community in the mainstream press, a weekly under the title, The Indian Currents was started from Delhi under the leadership of Fr. John Vallamattam. In 1998, the CBCI decided to hand over the management of Indian Currents to the Media House, a Capuchin publishing house based in NewDelhi. In 1992 the Indian chapter of the international Catholic Association for Cinema, Radio and Television called UNDA-OCIC (later renamed Signis) was established. In 1994, Bishop Patrick D’Souza, the then Chairman of the Commission, presented a proposal to set up a national institute for training and research in media and communication. The project materialised in 1997, when NISCORT was officially registered as the CBCI Society for Social Communications, Research and Training in September, 1997. The General Body of the CBCI held in Trichur, Kerala, in 2004 chose for its theme “Church and Social Communications”. The Commission was actively involved in the planning and organisation of this event and the preparation of a national pastoral plan for social communications.
As mandated by General Body Meeting of 2004, the Commission conducted a nationwide survey on the situation of communication in the church in India. The Commission works in close collaboration with the Signis India, ICPA, the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, FABC OSC, Radio Veritas Asia and other media bodies. In 2010 the Commission launched a program for formation in social communication in seminaries and religious institutes and published a 3-volume manual and other resources and conducted several training workshops. In 2010 as part of the initiative to restructure the CBCI, the Commission was renamed the CBCI Office for Social Communications.
The Commission has been in charge of the official website of the CBCI. In 2012 it was re-launched. A website policy was prepared and several training programs for the diocesan web administrators were held. In 2010 the Commission established a forum of Christian artists named Art.i. Other major initiatives of the Commission are promotion of Community Radio, formation of a network of Catholic media faculties in India (2009), network of Catholic publishers (2010).
The CBCI Office for Social Communications (CBCI-OSC) today serves 166 dioceses divided into 13 regions. Each region is headed by Chairman Bishops and the Regional Secretaries for Communications. Annual meetings of the Commission and the regional chairman bishops and secretaries are held to study, report and plan activities. In June 2012, the CBCI-OSC was shifted to NISCORT when the Secretary was appointed Director of NISCORT.