Monterey Diocese May Auction TV Rights for Pope's Visit

Times Staff Writer

Catholic coordinators in Monterey have angered broadcasters and unsettled national church officials by proposing to auction off exclusive rights to live television coverage of the Pope's visit to the city later this year.

The television rights bidding is one of two fund-raising ideas being proposed by the diocese to cover the estimated $2-million cost of Pope John Paul II's Sept. 17 visit to Monterey and Carmel. Under the other idea, each of the 45 parishes in the diocese will be expected to help cover costs in proportion to the number of tickets it receives for a papal Mass at Laguna Seca raceway.

In proposing the sale of broadcast rights to area television news directors last week, diocesan communications director Ted Elisee stressed that the papal visit, the first ever by a Pope to California, is a "once-in-a-lifetime event." Deadline for submitting bids and a "plan of action" is March 15.

Broadcasters publicly scoffed at the proposal Wednesday, although Monterey church officials said that some stations are considering it.

"I think it's outrageous," said Dianne Fukami, news director at KPIX, the CBS affiliate in San Francisco. "I am not at all inclined to ante up."

Harry Fuller, news director at ABC affiliate KGO, said, "We're definitely not going to bid. We will cover it as best we can from publicly available positions."

Officials of the U.S. Catholic Conference in Washington, which is coordinating the papal tour, declined to comment specifically on the Monterey proposal. But spokesman Carl Eifert did say that the conference itself has "adopted a policy of no marketing or licensing of anything connected with the Pope's visit."

Privately, however, conference officials expressed dismay with the notion of selling television rights to any part of the trip.

"It's a very sensitive subject," one official said. "We really want the news media to have free and open coverage."

Despite this sentiment, the official said, the conference will not involve itself in the matter because by its nature, "it cannot and will not dictate" to local Catholic officials.

However, Monterey is the only diocese proposing to charge broadcasters for the right to televise live pictures of any part of the Pope's U.S. nine-city tour, which also will include stops in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

"It is unique," Elisee said of his proposal, "but the Diocese of Monterey is unique as well. This is a small diocese in a small-town environment. This is not a big-city situation, with a lot of money."

He estimated that the diocese will spend $500,000 to support television crews at each of the Pope's four appearances in Monterey County.

"We're not saying this (auction) is closed in concrete," he said. "We're just testing the waters to see if we can recoup the cost of that day."

Specifically, Elisee's proposal, as outlined in a Feb. 5 letter to Northern California television stations, is to sell to the highest bidder the exclusive rights to broadcast live all of the Pope's activities in Monterey County.

Other stations, he noted, will be able to cover the event, but would not be allowed to broadcast until the Pope leaves Carmel on his way to San Francisco. Elisee did not say how other stations could legally be prevented from covering a news event.

"That is something that would have to be decided between the person who got the contract and others in their business," he said Wednesday.

To sweeten interest among local television stations, Elisee said, "the beatification of Father Junipero Serra is a distinct possibility and that this aspect should be considered when formulating your input and proposal."

In the past, Elisee had been circumspect about the possible beatification, a step that precedes canonization, or a declaration of sainthood. Serra is credited with founding the California mission system in the 18th Century.

The possibility of a beatification has made each of the 105,000 tickets to that event particularly sought after. Tickets will be distributed through parishes in eight northern state dioceses, including 20,000 tickets in the Monterey diocese.

In other cities along the papal tour, admission to all Masses where space is limited also will be by ticket, but details about allocating the tickets have not been fully worked out.

Tickets to Masses at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and Dodger Stadium on Sept. 15 and 16 will be allocated proportionately to parishes in the dioceses of Orange, San Bernardino, San Diego, Fresno (Kern County) and Reno-Las Vegas, as well as the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

Planners in most of the cities that the Pope will visit have said they expect to provide live, "start-to-finish" television coverage of all public events on the papal itinerary, either through a pool arrangement of local TV stations or through local Catholic-operated television stations.

Times Religion Writer Russell Chandler contributed to this story.

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