SIGNIS (official name: World Catholic Association for Communication) is a Roman Catholic lay ecclesial movement for professionals in the communication media, including radio, television, cinema, video, media education, Internet and new technology. It is a non-profit organization with representation from over 100 countries. It was formed in November 2001 by the merger of International Catholic Organization for Cinema and Audiovisual (OCIC) and International Catholic Association for Radio and Television (Unda).
The Holy See has officially recognized SIGNIS as an International Association of the Faithful, and has included the "World Catholic Association for Communication, also known as SIGNIS" in its Directory of International Associations of the Faithful, published by the Pontifical Council for the Laity. The governing body of SIGNIS includes a representative of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, another department of the Roman Curia. The representative of the Pontifical Council of Social Communications that presently sits on the board of administrators for SIGNIS is Dr. Claudia Di Giovanni who is based in Vatican City
"SIGNIS is a worldwide network of associations, institutions and individuals working in the mass media, with the aim of alerting Christians to the importance of human communication in every culture, and encouraging them to speak out in this sector. The association, which represents Catholic media in all the governmental and nongovernmental organizations and institutions, is committed to lobbying for policies to encourage communications that respect Christian values, justice and human rights; to involving media professionals in the dialogue on questions of professional ethics, and to fostering ecumenical and interfaith cooperation in the media sector."
The Mission of SIGNIS is: To engage with media professionals and support Catholic Communicators to help transform our cultures in the light of the Gospel by promoting Human Dignity, Justice and Reconciliation.
The organization's diverse programmes cover fields that include the promotion of films and television programmes (juries at important festivals: Prize of the Ecumenical Jury at Cannes, Berlin, Monte Carlo, Venice and Ouagadougou), the creation of radio, video and television studios, production and distribution of programmes, supplying specialized communications equipment and the training of professionals.
OCIC and Unda were both founded in 1928 and had similar objectives: to bring together Catholics already working as professionals in the media (OCIC in the field of cinema and Unda in radio and television). The interest of Catholics in these new media was understandable. They saw the opportunities offered by the mass media to present their views and opinions on life and the world and so they naturally became involved in promoting education and values.
Catholics were involved in the new art of cinema from its inception (1895), seeing its worldwide influence on families and, above all, on young audiences. OCIC developed a positive approach to this new art. It wanted to offer guidance to audiences and to discover and foster productions which promoted the same values as Christians did. It called for the creation of national organizations dealing with topics such as childhood and cinema, and film reviews (an early form of media education). It also expressed its intention to collaborate with the film industry. One of its concerns was the promotion of ‘good’ films, both for education and entertainment.
In the same way Catholic radio producers realized by the end of the 1920s that radio had become, like cinema, an important means of spreading ideas, and could therefore influence the views of millions and connect them to Christian values. At its first international congress (1929) Unda drew attention to the importance of radio for religious, cultural and social life. In that spirit Unda invited Catholics to collaborate with radio companies (private or public) in making religious programmes and to foster Christian values.
In the 1930s Catholic broadcasters worldwide had an optimistic view of the development of radio and, later, of the new medium of television. It could transcend frontiers and bring peoples and cultures together. It could be a means of exchanging cultural values, a way of fostering mutual understanding. Radio was thought of as the means par excellence for reconciling peoples, fostering fellowship among nations and promoting peace. Like OCIC, Unda too developed different aspects of media education.
After World War II and during the succeeding decades these principles found new expression in cinema, radio and television activities. In February 1958, for example, participants from twelve countries came together in the second ever International Television Festival (the first was the Prix Italia) in the world, organised in Monte Carlo by Unda. This TV festival was supported by Prince Rainier III who, inspired by this event, created the Festival de Télévision de Monte-Carlo three years later. Unda was asked to give a prize at this festival and this tradition has been carried on by SIGNIS.
From the 1960s, Unda and OCIC began to hold joint meetings and assemblies and incorporated work on the small and grassroots media that were then being developed.
The 1980s saw the proliferation of video use, soon followed by rapid developments in information technology and the growth of digital media and the internet. Since many members of Unda and OCIC worked in several media, and since media ministry was cross-media, the impetus for a combined Catholic Association for audiovisual media grew ever stronger, eventually leading to the merger of Unda and OCIC as SIGNIS on November 21 2001.
Presidents and secretaries general of OCIC, Unda and SIGNIS
Unda secretary-generals for the period 1928-2002: Mgr Bernhard Marschall (Germany, 1928–1935); P.John Dito (OP, the Netherlands, 1935–1938); M. Paul Andrien Speet (The Netherlands, 1938–1942); M. Joseph Diening (The Netherlands, 1942–1950); M. François Van Hoek (Switzerland, 1950–1952); P. John Dito (OP, The Netherlands, 1952–1953); P. Bonaventura Jansen (OP, The Netherlands, 1953–1954); Fr. Joseph Schneuwly (Switzerland, 1954–1971); Fr John Stapleton (UK, 1971–1974); Fr. Jean Desautels (SJ, Canada, 1974–1981); Fr. Colm Murphy (Ireland, 1981–1994); Fr. Victor Sunderaj (India, 1994–1998); Fr. Pierre Bélanger (SJ, Canada, 1998–2001);
Unda presidents for the period 1928-2001 : P. Lambert Henricus Perquin (OP, The Netherlands, 1928–1935); Mgr Bernhard Marschall (Germany, 1935–1938); Fr John Dito (OP, The Netherlands, 1938–1946); Mgr F. Prosperini (Italy, 1946–1948); P. Johannes Benedict Kors (OP, The Netherlands, 1950–1962); Mgr. Jacques Haas (Switzerland, 1962–1968); Fr. Agnellus Andrew (OFM, Scotland, 1968–1980); P. Anthony Scannell (OFM Cap. USA, 1980–1987); Mr. Chainarong Monthienvichienchai (Thailand, 1987–1994); Sr. Angela Ann Zukowski (MHSH, USA, 1994–2001).
OCIC secretary-generals for the period 1928-2002: Fr. Joseph Reymond (France, 1928–1933); Fr. Jean Bernard (Luxemburg, 1935–1947); Mrs Yvonne de Hemptinne (Belgium, 1947–1978); M. Robert Molhant (Belgium, 1979–2002). OCIC presidents for the periode 1928-2002: Dr. George Ernst (Germany, 1928–1933); Fr. Abel Brohée (Belgium, 1933–1947); Fr. jean Bernard (Switzerland, 1947–1972); Fr. Lucien Labelle (Canada, 1972–1980); Fr. Ambros Eichenberger (OP, Switzerland, 1980–1990); Fr. Henk Hoekstra (O. Carm. The Netherlands, 1990–1998); Fr. Peter Malone (MSC, Australia, 1998–2002).
SIGNIS presidents for the period 2002-: Fr. Peter Malone (MSC, Australia, 2002–2005); M. Augie Loorthusamy (Malaysia, 2005-).
SIGNIS Secretary-generals for the period 2002- : M. Robert Molhant (Belgium, 2002–2005); M. Marc Aellen (Switzerland, 2006–2007); Fr. Bernardo Suate (Mozambique, 2007–2008); M. Alvito de Souza (Kenya, 2008- ).
SIGNIS at International Film and TV Festivals
With the merger of OCIC with Unda into SIGNIS the presence in TV and film festivals of catholic members of the organisation, not only continued but developed considerably. This international association considers this as one way of having contact with the professional world. In that way it has the possibility of bringing together in a jury, professionals from the association who are active in TV, radio, cinema and, film press and media education. These juries contain TV and film producers and film, TV and radio programme makers, media educators and internet specialists.
The first prize of the International Catholic Organisation for Cinema (OCIC) was given to the Italian film Vivere in Pace, by Luigi Zampa, at the Brussels world film festival in 1947. The first award of SIGNIS went in 2002 to the Egyptian film by Magdi Ahmed Ali Asrar al Bana, (The secret of the young girl) at the Milan African film festival. The jury gave its award for the well-versed narrative by which the film exposes the relentless pressure placed on women, in a society which risks to cynically suffocate anything beyond conformism. In 2010 SIGNIS had its international Catholic juries at festivals in Las Palmas, Santo Domingo, Milan, Toulouse, Hong Kong, Buenas Aires, Washington, Alba, Setubal (Festroia), Zanzibar, Venice, San Sebastian, Montevideo (Divercine), Rome (Religion Today), Quito (Cero Latidud), Besançon (Africa Filmfestival); Amiens; Mar del Plata and La Habana.
In 2010 SIGNIS continued also the ecumenical dialogue in cinema, which started in 1974 at the Locarno film festival with the first ecumenical award. This means that 2010 SIGNIS representatives collaborate with members of the International Protestant organisation for film (INTERFILM) in 14 international film festivals to award an ecumenical prize (Cannes, Berlin, Fribourg, Oberhausen, Locarno, Kiev, Cottbus, Leipzig, Mannheim-Heidelberg, Montréal, Yerevan, Karlovy Vary, Zlin and Warsaw).
This policy of dialogue with other Christian churches was extented in 2002 with other religions in interreligious juries. The first interfaith jury was organized in Tehran in 2003 at the Fajr film festival. This jury comprises two jury members selected by SIGNS and one or two Muslim jury members selected by the festival direction. The jury has to consider for its award the section of new Iranian feature films. The idea of jury representatives from different faiths opened the way to the Brisbane filmfestival (2003–2009), Nyon (2005-) and Dhaka, Bangladesh (2006- ).
SIGNIS is also continuing and developing the work of Unda in the different TV festivals. At the end of the 1950s Unda was present in the International television world, and not only in religious television. Compared with the international film festivals, there are fewer for television worldwide. In 1997 someone asked an Unda member at the Prix Italia festival, "Why does Unda attend television festivals around the world?". The answer was that Unda believed not only in promoting excellence in programme making but also in the importance of promotin positive human values in fiction and documentary television. That year Unda was at the 37th Monte-Carlo TV festival.In fact the Unda TV religious festival which began in 1958 became two years later the foundation of this TV festival by Rainier III, Prince of Monaco. He also introduced the Unda jury into this festival. In the following years Unda had juries in other international TV festivals like at Prix Italia and at the Golden Rose, in Montreux. This explains the presence of SIGNIS in 2010 at the Monte Carlo and at the Prix Italia TV festival.
- List of International Associations of the Faithful recognized by the Pontifical Council for the Laity
- International Associations of the Faithful
- "SIGNIS". Libreria Editrice Vaticana. Retrieved 2008-12-09.
- "Board of Management". SIGNIS. Retrieved 2008-12-09.
- "Members". SIGNIS. Retrieved 2008-12-09.
- Annuario Pontificio. Libreria Editrice Vaticana. 2007. p. 1277. ISBN 978-88-209-7908-9.
- Molhant, Robert. OCIC Awards at Film Festivals and Grand Prix 1947-1966: The First Twenty Years. Brussels:OCIC Editions, 2000
- Molhant, Robert. Catholics and the Cinema. A strange story of fears and passions. The beginnings: 1895-1935. Brussels: SIGNIS,2003
- Bonneville, Léo. Soixante-Dix Ans au Service du Cinéma et de l'Audiovisuel Organisation catholique internationale du cinéma (OCIC). Québec: Fides, 1998
- Convents, Guido. "Looking for the roots of SIGNIS".SIGNIS Media, No.1,(2003), p.29-30 2003
- Convents, Guido. "Looking for the roots of SIGNIS".SIGNIS Media, No.2-3,(2003), p.33-342003
- Convents, Guido. "Looking for the roots of SIGNIS".SIGNIS Media, No.4,(2003), p.29-30
- Convents,Guido. "Looking for the roots of SIGNIS",SIGNIS Media, No.5,(2003), p.27-28
- Malone, Peter (ed.). The Emergence of SIGNIS. Celebrating 80 years of Catholic presence in the Media with Unda, OCIC and SIGNIS.Brussels/Chang Mai: SIGNIS,2009
- Convents, Guido, "The work of SIGNIS Juries in Film and Television Festivals", pp. 132-139; in Malone, Peter (ed.). The Emergence of SIGNIS. Celebrating 80 years of Catholic presence in the Media with Unda, OCIC and SIGNIS.Brussels/Chang Mai: SIGNIS,2009
- SIGNIS official website