Although German journalists are regularly insulted, mainly by right-wing activists, for being “state media”, most people here have no idea how a state media really functions.
Three years ago, I spent two months working for a genuine example of such a press: Vaticannews – an online portal owned by the Vatican that disseminates information about the Pope’s activities, the Vatican, and Catholic teaching worldwide.
As a journalism student looking for an internship, I thought Vaticannews would be an interesting place to learn my craft. It was certainly interesting. However, I didn’t learn so much about journalistic techniques, but more about the boundaries which journalists can face.
Not surprisingly, my own report into the workings of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith did not get very far. This is the successor authority to the Inquisition, responsible for keeping Catholic doctrine pure. A background discussion with one priest working for the congregation did take place, but led to little actual information.
When afterwards, I sent a question about a pending case concerning the verification of an apparition of the Virgin Mary, I received a rebuke, more or less indicating me that I — as an intern of a Vatican media — should have been instructed by my colleagues not to report on such controversial issues.
What I found surprising was that there were tangible diplomatic interests of the Holy See that we had to take into account in our reporting. Human rights violations in China? Difficult.
The Pope has been trying to negotiate with China for best protection for Catholics in China who are recognised as being members of a sort of “official” Church by the Chinese state.
In order not to jeopardise these negotiations, the bosses at the press told us to avoid criticism of China. This seemed to me to be grounded in a rather worldly consideration.
Back in Germany, I felt relieved that finally again, I was allowed to devote myself to the sacred goals of critical journalism.