SIGNIS was created in November 2001 from the merger of Unda (International Catholic Association for Radio and Television) and OCIC (International Catholic Organization for Cinema and Audiovisuals), both founded in 1928. They 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. 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 21st 2001.
To know more about the origins of OCIC and Unda, please dowload these 2 documents: The origins of OCIC and Unda & OCIC/Unda: the first international activities.