Vatican City ushers in high-def b'casts


ROME -- Vatican City will join the growing list of European countries broadcasting its programming via high-definition digital frequency on April 15, Vatican press secretary Federico Lombardi said Wednesday.

The Vatican is the world's smallest country, completely surrounded by the Italian capital of Rome. But it nonetheless broadcasts a powerful signal via Vatican TV, which sends family- and religion-oriented programming around the world in dozens of languages.

Although the Vatican has no plans to abandon the traditional terrestrial television signals that still dominate most developing countries, as of April 15 some programming will be broadcast simultaneously using the high-tech digital signal. The date was chosen because it is the 80th birthday of Pope Benedict XVI.

While satellite broadcaster Sky Italia uses a digital signal, dominant broadcasters RAI and Mediaset are being forced by law to migrate one network each to digital frequencies by 2009. Other networks will make the switch by 2012.

This is not the first time the Vatican has been on the forefront of technology. The powerful Vatican radio antennae were raised in Rome in the early part of the last century when radios were still far from common. And the Vatican unveiled its first Web site in 1996, almost three years before the Italian government did the same.