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VATICAN CITY (RNS) After 78 years of broadcasting the pope’s message around the world, Vatican Radio is to break with tradition and take paid commercials for the first time.
The move to mix jingles and advertising with religious programming will help balance the books at the station, which employs 500 people, broadcasts in 47 languages and costs more than $27 million a year to run.
But officials insisted only “ideologically” sound ads will be broadcast after first being filtered by an Italian communications firm that specializes in advertising through Catholic media.
“It is important to help Vatican Radio be present around the world and to spread the voice of the holy father,” said Monsignor Renato Boccardo, secretary general of the Vatican City state administration.
“But Vatican Radio will have the final word on accepting commercials or not.”
The advertising initiative follows the Vatican’s recent decision to increase its staff retirement age by two years to help make ends meet.
The Rev. Federico Lombardi, the head of Vatican Radio and the Vatican’s chief spokesman, said that “tens of thousands of euros” would be earned during a summer trial run, when ads from Italian energy company Enel will be run in five languages.
“That is a nominal start up figure and no guide to an eventual revenue stream,” added one official.
“We have four other names in the bag right now, depending on the results of the Enel experiment,” Vatican Radio English section head Sean Lovett said.
In the past, Vatican Radio has run limited transmissions on short wave. Now that it broadcasts 24 hours a day on FM in much of Italy, as well as on the Internet, advertising is a more practical proposition, said Lombardi.
“This programming, with an increasingly stable public, is naturally a place where publicity can more logically be inserted,” he said.
Global audience figures for radio programming are unavailable, said Lovett, since Vatican Radio is rebroadcast by thousands of local radio stations around the world.
By Tom Kington
Copyright 2009 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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