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Asian bishops suspend radio project after ownership crisis

Asian bishops' federation accuses Philippine bishops of virtually taking over its project
A dance troupe kicks off Radio Veritas Asia’s 50th anniversary celebrations at the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Bangladesh (CBCB) center in Dhaka on Nov. 1, 2019

A dance troupe kicks off Radio Veritas Asia’s 50th anniversary celebrations at the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Bangladesh (CBCB) center in Dhaka on Nov. 1, 2019 (Photo by Stephan Uttom/ucanews)

Published: March 30, 2023 11:05 AM GMT
Updated: March 31, 2023 12:02 PM GMT

The Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences has suspended their pan-Asian Catholic radio, Radio Veritas Asia, allegedly following a dispute over its ownership.

The federation’s president Cardinal Charles Bo in a March 28 letter said all activities of the project based in the Philippine capital Manila will be suspended from March 29.

“Deep concerns” and “some kind of disorder and anomaly” over the project compelled him to take the decision, he said. 

The federation head said his decision comes after the public announcement of removing Father Bernard Dashi Tang, the service’s program director, who has been recently re-appointed by the federation’s Office for Social Communication.

The removal of Tang, a Myanmar national, by Philippine Radio Educational and Information Center, Inc, or PREIC, the legal owner of the project, was "unacceptable" to the federation, Bo said.

That decision was “unilateral” and "without consultation" and its public announcement was “unchristian and unprecedented,” he said.

The radio service is a project of the federation “and as such, it is the prerogative of" the federation to decide on its major policies and administration.

Bo said he was “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 federation entrusted the responsibility of running the service to its office of social communication, Bo said adding:  “I wish to uphold its right over the RVA.”

The suspension came a day after Cardinal Jose F. Advincula, Manila archbishop and PREIC chairman, issued a letter to Tang, informing him of his removal from the post.

Advincula’s letter said Tang was earlier informed about the decision on March 14, but he has not acknowledged it.

The PREIC exercised the authority vested on it by a Memorandum of Agreement in 1974 entered into by the bishops’ federation and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Philippines, which was further reiterated in February 2007, Advincula said.

The memorandum said that “appointments to management positions are proposed and recommended by FABC but made by PREIC.  Appointment letters should be signed by both the PREIC Chairman and the FABC-OSC Chairman and/or Executive Secretary,“  he pointed out.

The federation’s office of social communication in a letter said the suspension of services in Manila comes as the bishops were considering the possibility of re-locating the service to Bangkok, the capital of Thailand.

The relocation proposal was a result of the process of decentralization and closure of the shortwave radio on the one hand, and the insistence of the donors for the past two decades or so, to become more financially sustainable, said the letter signed by its secretary, Salesian Father George Plathottam.

The radio service went on air in 1969. Although short-wave radio service was shut down a few years back, it has been providing audio-visual programs through a website, besides services in 22 languages.

“Only the activities in Manila are practically suspended. The language services will continue as they are managed by regional teams,” Plathottam told UCA News on March 30.

The Salesian priest said the project enjoyed the financial support of the Church in Germany, and of the Vatican from the beginning. In recent decades, it has been struggling as the financial grants have been reducing each year.

Plathottam favored the suspension of services. “The disputes have gone beyond manageable levels” and the federation thought it was “necessary to take some drastic steps” to bring in some clarity and sleekness in the operations.

While the discussions are ongoing to achieve further decentralization and financial sustainability, the issue involving Tang’s appointment exposed the project to “some sort of crisis,” he said.

The recent incident shows the PREIC has “overstepped its mandate” of being a legal owner by vetoing an appointment done by the federation, he said.

Plathottam said that the present crisis “affects our mission to proclaim the Gospel to the People of Asia.”

However, the Church’s leadership would address the crisis “through a process of dialogue and mutual understanding,” he added.

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