RVA in chaos: bishops divided over its future
by Santosh Digal

FABC President Card Bo has challenged the removal of the programme director of the continental Catholic broadcaster by the Philippine Church body that runs the station. However, the real row is over moving its operations from the Philippines to Thailand to cut costs. In 2018 the station stopped broadcasting in more than 20 languages on shortwave in favour of the Internet. A committee of four bishops has been set up to find a solution.

Manila (AsiaNews) - Radio Veritas Asia (RVA), the Catholic radio station broadcasting in English and 21 Asian languages, is in chaos over a dispute about its future.

Until further notice, the station “shall suspend all activities and programs,” reads a statement released today by Card Charles Bo, archbishop of Yangon and president of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences (FABC), which is responsible for the broadcaster’s overall operations.

In Manila, where the station is based, Bishop Pablo Virgilio David, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), said that Card Bo’s announcement “will be taken by the CBCP as a proposal that is to be decided by the … PREIC Board, which is the proper legal entity that is in a position to make such a decision.” The PREIC is the Philippine Radio Educational and Information Center.

One of the bones of contention is the removal of RVA’s programme director Fr Bernard Dashi Tang, which was done “unilaterally and without consultation”, Card Bo said in the press release. The FABC’s Office of Social Communications (OSC) had just renewed Fr Tang’s mandate for another three years.

The archbishop of Yangon goes on to say that “a meeting of the Coordinators of the RVA Language Services and others in RVA in which an announcement has been made to publicly remove Fr. Bernard. This is unchristian and unprecedented.”

What is more, “RVA is a project of the FABC, and as such, it is the prerogative of the FABC to decide on the major policies, programs, personnel, and administration of RVA. This has been the practice so far, and I am surprised to see a virtual takeover of these by the PREIC, which has been established to provide a legal safeguard for RVA in the Philippines,” the prelate added.

In view of the situation, the FABC has decided to refer the matter to a four-member committee to study plans and proposals. The four members are FABC general secretary Archbishop Tarcisio Isao Kikuchi of Tokyo, Bishop Sebastian Francis of Penang (president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Malaysia, Singapore, and Brunei, and chairman of the FABC Office of Social Communication); Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Kalookan (president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines), and a yet-to-be-named bishop from Thailand.

The FABC’S Office of Social Communications is confident that a solution will be found through dialogue.

Founded more than 50 years ago as a continent-wide Catholic radio station to serve Asian countries in their own languages, RVA became the “Voice of Asian Christianity”, based in the Philippines, a Catholic-majority country and a gateway to China, where it played a vital role in restoring democracy after the fall of Ferdinand Marcos’s dictatorial regime.

Beyond the row over who should be programming director, RVA’s crisis stems from differences over its future direction. In the past few months, the FABC has been vetting a proposal to move its facilities from the Philippines to Thailand to make it more financially sustainable.

Since it was founded in 1969, its funding has come from the Vatican and the Catholic Church in Germany, but in 2018 it stopped broadcasting on shortwave migrating to online and social media to cut costs.

Now, with traditional sources of funding shrinking, the FABC has to find other ways to ensure its financial sustainability; this also means managing its resources like buildings and personnel. To this end, it is seeking the views of donors, consultants, and other stakeholders.