February marks Catholic Press Month, a time to celebrate and support journalism that provides solid news coverage and commentary independent of the vitriol of many secular media outlets. Journalism, at its best, is a crucial vehicle for communication, which is essential to civilization. In his message for World Communications Day 2018, Pope Francis says “Communication is part of God’s plan for us and an essential way to experience fellowship.” He released his message Jan. 24, the Feast of St. Francis de Sales, the patron saint of journalists. World Day of Communications will be celebrated May 13 at the Vatican and in dioceses around the world.
The theme of the Holy Father’s message — “The truth will set you free. Fake News and journalism for peace” speaks to a concern about the spread of fake news and its consequences for the world in which we live. The experience of fellowship certainly seems to be in jeopardy because of it.
The Holy Father defines fake news as “the spreading of disinformation online or in the traditional media. It has to do with false information based on non-existent or distorted data meant to deceive and manipulate the reader. Spreading fake news can serve to advance specific goals, influence political decisions, and serve economic interests.” No country in the world is immune. Fake news spreads like a contagion, and weakens our democracy — as do attacks on journalists. It is a worrisome sign that only about a quarter of Americans have a great deal or quite a lot of trust in traditional media, while more than a third have very little or no trust.
The problem is rooted in an unwillingness of media consumers to read or listen to “other sources of information that could effectively challenge prejudices and generate constructive dialogue,” Pope Francis observes. Consumers choose their news sources based on their point of view, shrinking their worldview and their empathy with the other.
Fake news is not new; in the story of Adam and Eve, Eve was deceived by the snake in the Garden of Eden, as Pope Francis points out. Our task is to “unmask what could be called ‘snake-tactics,’” the lies rooted in a “thirst for power, a desire to possess and enjoy….”
People need to be taught “how to discern, evaluate and understand our deepest desires and inclinations, lest we lose sight of what is good and yield to every temptation,” the Holy Father says. “We discover and rediscover the truth when we experience it within ourselves in the loyalty and trustworthiness of the One who loves us.”
Nothing is truthful that demonizes others, the pope says. We recognize the truth of statements from their fruits. He urges us to promote a “journalism of peace” that is “truthful and opposed to falsehoods, rhetorical slogans, and sensational headlines. A journalism created by people and for people, one that is at the service of all, especially those — and they are the majority in our world — who have no voice.”
Good journalism exists — and it fosters communication, rather than impedes it. Good journalism is an antidote to the “spread of arrogance and hatred” fostered by “fake news.” Good journalism requires all of us to be active listeners and readers. We’ve got to be willing to listen to other sources besides those we typically listen to or read. We’ve got to be willing to have a relationship with others … even those we’d rather avoid because of their viewpoint. We need to read a variety of materials about current events and world affairs, to avoid becoming self absorbed, to be able to empathize with the joys and struggles of our fellow human beings.
Good journalism exists here, in The Catholic Messenger, your weekly diocesan newspaper that covers 22 counties in southeast Iowa and provides news of the church from the parish to the diocese to the world. Your annual subscription to The Catholic Messenger ensures that a 136-year-old tradition will continue.
Consider giving a $29 gift subscription of the print and/or e-edition to a friend, a college student away from home, or family members who have moved out of the diocese. You’ll be giving them a valuable perspective on important issues that they won’t find among the shrill voices in the secular media. To subscribe, contact email@example.com or call (563) 323-9959.
Barb Arland-Fye, Editor