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May 27, 3:57 PM EDT

Vatican's fragmented media operations to be merged with spokesman's office



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Vatican's fragmented media operations to be merged with spokesman's office

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VATICAN CITY (AP) -- The Vatican's media operations are in for a major overhaul to make them more efficient.

The head of Pope Francis' reform committee outlined the group's recommendations Wednesday. At a speech in London, Chris Patten said the proposal calls for the Holy See's newspaper, television and radio fiefdoms to be merged under a centralized management, with a souped-up spokesman's office that can operate in multiple languages around the clock.

Patten, former chairman of the BBC Trust, acknowledged the changes will be difficult to implement given the entrenched autonomy enjoyed by the different media branches over budgets and staff. But he said the committee decided not to propose a "Plan B" since the only way to improve the Vatican's fragmented operation was to merge departments and reduce overlap, especially in translation services.

Patten was named in July to head a committee of media experts to propose ways to adapt the Holy See's outdated operations to 20th century digital needs, improve coordination and, it was hoped, save money. In the end, Patten said, committee members realized they couldn't cut much from the combined 70 million euro ($76 million) budget without reducing the staff of over 600.

Instead, the committee set about proposing ways to get more bang for the Vatican's buck by improving its multi-media offerings and redistributing funding away from traditional radio and newspaper budgets toward television and social media operations.

Significantly, the recommendations call for beefing up the spokesman's office, currently run by the overworked Jesuit, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, and a few aides.

"The press office today is under-staffed and under huge pressure and it should operate in more languages in a way that accommodates a 24-hour news cycle," Patten said.

Patten said the core recommendations were accepted by Francis' cardinal advisers last month. A new committee has been named to map out the feasibility of implementing them, and as always in the Vatican, Francis has the final say.

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