Setting Hearts on Fire: The Jesuit Communication Project story. Part Two: Screens

Setting Hearts on Fire: The Jesuit Communication Project story. 

               Part Two: Screens, screens and more screens

The media are now, arguably, our culture’s primary symbolic system. They will certainly be so throughout the next century. Those who do not understand how the media work, how they construct meanings, how they be used, and how the evidence they present can be weighed and evaluated are, in contemporary cultures, considerably disadvantaged and disempowered.

Len Masterman, British media educator, writing in 1997.

More than meets the eye

Source: bunchfamily.caWhen the animated character Bart Simpson informed his dad, Homer, “It’s just hard not to listen to TV – it’s spent so much more time raising us than you have,” he wasn’t joking. He was expressing a serious sociological phenomenon. The eyes of more kids around the world had already focused on screens of all kinds, and for longer and longer periods of time.

John Pungente, the director of the Jesuit Communication Project, chose to use Bart Simpson’s words to open More Than Meets the Eye: Watching Television, Watching You. This is the book he co-authored with veteran journalist, Martin O’Malley back in 1999.

Brian Murphy, John Pungente, SJ and Eric Jensen, SJ at book signing for More Than Meets the Eye in Winnipeg.They designed their book as an entertaining guide to media education and the importance of media literacy. Both authors stressed that there is nothing wrong with television itself and which is omnipresent in our common culture. But their book did cast a watchful eye on television violence, TV news, reality TV, prime time shows, advertising, talk TV, focusing on the values implicit in the programming.

A millennial forum of empowerment

List of countries at Summit 2000.                     Amid all the fears of computer failure around the world as the new century dawned, the JCP helped to organize Summit 2000: Children, Youth and the Media – Beyond the Millennium.

This conference brought an astounding 1,400 delegates  – media professionals and media educators – to Toronto from 55 countries. The JCP, working with three other organizing groups (The Alliance for Children and Television, The American Center for Children and Media, and Ontario’s Association for Media Literacy) asked Toronto businessman, Joe Pereira to manage this major event. No other media education gathering since has brought together such a wide-ranging representation from media academics, media professionals, and media educators.

CHUM Television’s sponsorship of the media education portion of Summit 2000 illustrated the network’s engagement with issues of media literacy and media education and, especially, the significant work of Pungente and the JCP.Interviewing Gordon Lawrence, New Zealand media educator at Summit 2000

Clipboard’s journey from analogue to digital

Back in the days of the unstoppable march from analogue to digital in all things, printed newsletters distributed by mail were still common. In March 1986, the JCP launched Clipboard, a printed newsletter designed to assemble information about media education and media literacy from around the world. Not surprisingly, the first issue featured an article on the state of media education in Canada.

Over the years, Clipboard helped keep media educators in some 41 countries aware of what was happening in media literacy and educations, detailing articles on conferences, new books, and recent developments with audio-visual material.  Clipboard  became the place of choice for media education colleagues to share with other educators what was happening in their work.  After 14 years, a lack of funding forced the JCP to cease publication of the newsletter. Clipboard’s last issue, Summer/Winter 2000, covered the depth and range of the Summit 2000 conference presentations and activities.

In spite of what many people think, the media standards will be upheld – if you raise your voice loud enough

In 2001, John Pungente was invited to join the Ontario panel of The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) . This is the self-regulatory body created by Canada’s private broadcasters to oversee the administration of industry broadcast Codes. This is the place for viewers to turn when they have especially strong reactions to broadcasts they have seen.

In 2008, Pungente became a member of the CBSC’s National Policy Committee. This invitation for him to engage in the work of the CBSC recognized the non-partisan and non-denominational reach of the work of the JCP.

Integrating video with print

The original and award-winning Scanning Television was so successful that it created a demand for a follow-up edition with new video excerpts. Scanning Television 2 was released in 2002, produced by the JCP and Face to Face Media in collaboration with Harcourt Canada, and with assistance from CHUM Television. A new kit included 51 video excerpts and a teacher’s guide written by media educators Neil Andersen and Kathleen Tyner. The video clips explore advertising, gender issues, diversity, terrorism, politics, pop culture, movies, the Internet, anti-racism, and many other issues.

A year later, in collaboration with Japan’s Forum for Citizens’ Television and Media, the JCP and Face to Face media produced a Japanese language version of Scanning Television 2 – both have earned critical and popular success.

Finding God in the dark

The 2004 book published by Novalis, Finding God in the Dark: The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Go to the Movies, presents a means of experiencing the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola using medium of commercial film. Written by John Pungente, SJ and Monty Williams, SJ, a retreat director at Loyola House in Guelph, the book recognizes that most people crave a spiritual life that integrates their daily lives but are simply too busy to do much about that. Instead of an intense and interruptive 30-day retreat, the book offers people a more practical way to make the Exercises, using contemporary popular film, where watching the film under review becomes an act of contemplative prayer. The authors designed their book for use by individuals or groups.

Their book illustrates the Ignatian spirit behind all the activities of the JCP. St. Ignatius had the insight that we all live in imagined worlds, and that our imagination constructs the worlds in which we live, using our experiences, our lived contexts, our hopes, our pains and our joys. In effect we live in a highly selective world, and this world defines what is possible for us. It also defines how we see ourselves and how we interact with others and the contexts in which we find ourselves.John Pungente, SJ and Wayne Cuervo on a green screen set.

Today, the media that shape us are film and television, and television basically utilizes the sensibilities of a culture formed by film. It is film which proposes to us forms of the world and ethical ways of living in the world it creates. When we watch a film we are more than being entertained; we are being formed and shaped. We expose ourselves to narratives that shape what is possible, and we live out of those possibilities. And those narratives have never been more readily available with on-demand cable services and download services such as Netflix.

The book presents the basic insight that God’s own media is the Christ and the Christ incarnates the divine mercy of God in the world. The medium is not only the message and the massage but here it becomes, even more radically, the dynamics of the one doing the Exercises. We become the living word of God in our world. For Ignatius this is “contemplation in action.”

The book won the 2005 Catholic Press Association’s First Place Award for Spirituality. Monty Williams, SJ is also an Associate of the Jesuit Communication Project and gives of his time to assist in a number of JCP Projects.John Pungente, SJ with Monty Williams, SJ, on location for Scanning the Movies.

In 2011, when the authors revised their book for a second edition, the authors included this dedication:

In gratitude for the vision of Ignatius continued by the Jesuits in Canada, we celebrate that time, four hundred years ago, when Jesuits – Fathers Pierre Biard and Ennemond Masse – first arrived in Canada at Port Royal, Nova Scotia, on May 22, 1611. Within that tradition, The Jesuit Communication Project humbly acknowledges its identity and mission as an apostolate of the Society of Jesus in Canada.

Entering Plato’s cave

Social media was in its infancy when the JCP entered Plato’s cave.

In The Republic, Plato describes a group of people who have lived in a cave all their lives. They are prisoners, chained in such a way that they can only look straight ahead, facing a blank wall at the back of the cave. Behind them is a half-wall as high as a person. Behind that is a bright fire. People pass back and forth in front of the fire, carrying all sorts of figures of people and animals and various objects held high. These objects cast dancing shadows across the cave and onto the wall here the prisoners see them. Sometimes the carriers speak as they go by, sometimes not. For the prisoners, reality is nothing but these shadows of the objects and the voices that accompany them.

Plato meant this as a parable for his time. And, although it could be, it doesn’t have to be a parable for our time. It doesn’t have to be about the way we watch media. Not if the ability to distinguish between shadow and substance becomes part of our lives and the lives of those we teach. This is why, in 2005, in conjunction with Face to Face Media, the JCP began work on Inside Plato’s Cave, an online credit course for teachers who will be teaching media literacy at the Grade 8 to 12 level in Canada. Although media education is a mandated component of the curriculum in Canada there is little opportunity for pre-service or in-service training.

The Newfoundland-based Virtual Teacher Centre in St. John’s provided technical and instructional design support. In the summer of 2007 – incidentally the year the iPhone was launched – the modules were field tested by teachers in Vancouver, London, Toronto, and St. John’s, with enthusiastic response. In July 2010, the online course was offered for credit through Alberta’s Athabasca University as Understanding Media Literacy: Inside Plato’s Cave, Education 315. 

Research, direct engagement, and teaching – three constants in the life of the JCP

Thirty years later and the work of the Jesuit Communication Project continues. In the past few years, John Pungente has become part of the media education curriculum at the University of Toronto through the University of St. Michael’s College and Regis College, He provides courses dealing with media education and media literacy and their implication in ministry.Paul Sullivan, Chair of the JCP board ,at the 2004 celebrations for the JCP's 20th anniversary.

In addition to assisting educators in Canada, Pungente also continues to work internationally. In 2008, Britain’s Ofcom – the British telecommunications regulator – launched The International Media Literacy Research Forum with representatives from Australia, Britain, Canada, Ireland,
New Zealand, and the U.S. The forum’s organizers invited him to represent Canada on the steering committee and he led a delegation of Canadian media educators to Ofcom’s founding conference in London.

This event resulted in another “media first” for Pungente. Despite his many and varied media appearances on radio and television, this event gave him his first YouTube experience. The Forum organizers posted his keynote presentation on YouTube.

Beyond the screen

In 2008, the year that Android cellular telephone devices appeared, John Pungente returned to national network television with a new show: Beyond the Screen. Like Scanning the Movies before it, this new prime time series took a media education look at contemporary film. As a medium, films represent ideas through the codes and conventions of sound and moving image.  As art, they make personal and cultural statements to their audiences. As businesses, they create work for their creators and profits for their investors, and these statistics are reported weekly in the form of news items about what’s “hot” at the box-office.

Each half-hour program was accompanied by an online study guide, written by media educator Neil Andersen. The guide offered additional suggestions for exploring the ideas presented in each televised episode. The series continued until 2010.John Pungente's exclusive interview with Bugs Bunny for Beyond the Screen.

Communicating inside Canada’s Jesuit community

In 2009, John Pungente received a call from his Jesuit leaders. They asked him to become chair of the Communications Commission of the Jesuits in English Canada. He has consulted on events throughout 2011-2012 marking the 400th anniversary of the Jesuit presence in Canada. One of those initiatives that continues today is the blog that you are reading, igNation , for which, since its inception in 2013, he also serves as editor.

The first article in this 2-part series began with a reference to George Orwell’s frightening vision of the future, 1984, a world of centralized and absolute control of all things. There are glimmers of hope in that novel. As one character says, “We can only spread our knowledge outwards from individual to individual, generation after generation.”

In his September 2013 address to the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, Pope Francis points to a more positive way ahead for media education in the pursuit of media literacy:

It is important to know how to dialogue, and how to enter, with discernment, into the environments created by new technologies, into social networks, in such a way as to reveal a presence that listens, converses, and encourages.

Do not be afraid to be this presence, expressing your Christian identity as you become citizens of this environment. A Church that follows this path learns how to walk with everybody! . . . Saint Ignatius says that anyone accompanying a pilgrim must walk at the same pace as the pilgrim, not ahead and not lagging behind. And this is what I mean: a Church that accompanies the journey, that knows how to walk as people walk today.

Pope Francis and selfies.As new communication technologies have continued to appear, the Jesuit Communication Project has tried, for thirty years, “to walk as people walk today.”  It has sought creative ways to serve as interpreter and trusted guide for people living in today’s mass mediated world. The goal has remained constant: To help people watch carefully and to think critically, and to help them become media literate through formal and (especially) informal media education. The JCP pursues this singular goal because, as the Australian Bishops wrote, it is “a bounden moral duty.” And, as Pungente says, “We also do it because it’s fun!”

This retrospective two-part series has focused on the past to take us to the present moment. But what about the future aspirations of the Jesuit Communication Project? 

Let’s look to another medium for an answer to that question, Calvin and Hobbes:





Pages from the JCP Notebook:

From its inception the JCP has worked in consultation with an advisory board comprised of people experienced in media production and education. The current membership of the JCP’s Advisory Board includes:

Paul Sullivan, (Chair), Breakthrough Communications, Vancouver.
Kevin Burns, (Secretary) editor, documentary producer, Ottawa.
Sarah Crawford,  Communication Consultant , former VP Public Affairs, CTVglobemedia, Toronto.
Charles Falzon, Dean FCAD, Ryerson University, Toronto.

Adrienne Pereira,  former Coordinator of External Events, Regis College, Toronto.

John Pungente, SJ, Director, Jesuit Communication Project, Toronto.
Monty Williams, SJ,  Associate, Jesuit Communication Project; Lecturer at Regis College; Director of the Spiritual Exercises, Toronto.

Some of the ways in which projects and activities of the Jesuit Communication Project have been recognized by peers  in media and in education over the years:

2017: Lifetime Achievement Award, by SIGNIS

2014: The McLuhan Institute Medium and Light Award for 2014 to JCP and John Pungente, SJ

2012: Finding God in the Dark II – Second Place Catholic Press Association Awards in soft cover category

2007: Scanning the Movies:  Journals of Knud Rasmussen wins Silver in the category of Educational – Adult Audience – at the 2007 Hugo Television Awards presented by Cinema/Chicago & the Chicago International Film Festival.

2006: Scanning the Movies: Water  (a 2-part special) wins the Platinum Remi Award at 2006 WorldFest Houston . (The Houston International Film Festival)

2006: Scanning the Movies: Water  (a 2-part special) wins third place at the 2006 US International Film and Video Festival in Los Angeles.

2005: Finding God in the Dark wins First Place Catholic Press Association Award in soft cover category.

2004: Scanning Television (2nd Edition) wins Bronze Medal at the New York International Festivals of Film and Video

2003: Finding God in the Dark wins First Place Catholic Press Association Awards in soft cover category.

2003: Scanning the Movies: Matrix Reloaded wins Silver Chris (best in category) at 51st Annual Columbus International Film and Video Festival and is chosen to be shown at the Festival.

2003: Scanning the Movies: Matrix Reloaded wins Gold at Intercom, Chicago International Film Festival

2003: Scanning the Movies wins Special Jury Award at Houston World Fest

2003: Scanning Television (2nd Edition) wins Platinum Medal at Houston World Fest

2001: Canadian media educator of the year, awarded by Magic Lantern Corporation to John Pungente,SJ

1999: Scanning the Movies wins Silver Medal (Education) at 32nd Annual International Film and Video Festival, Chicago.

1998: Scanning the Movies wins Gold Medal (Education) at 41st Annual New York International Festivals of Non-Broadcast Media, presented in New York, January 1999.

1996: Scanning Television wins Gold Medal (Education) at 1996 New York International Festivals of Non-Broadcast Media, presented at NATPE in New Orleans.

1996: Scanning Television wins Bronze Medal at the 1996 Madison International Film Festival.

1995: Jessie McCanse Award, presented to John Pungente, SJ by The National Telemedia Council, Madison,- Wisconsin, in recognition of special contribution to the field of media literacy.

1992: A Heart to Understand wins Best Documentary Video Award at 1992 OCIC World Forum for Religious and Educational Videos.


Source for all photos  – unless otherwise indicated – is the JCP.


Ottawa-based author and editor, Kevin Burns is a frequent contributor to igNation. His latest book, Impressively Free – Henri Nouwen as a Model for a Reformed Priesthood and co-authored with Michael W. Higgins, has just been released by Paulist Press in the United States and by Novalis in Canada.

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