My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
As we begin Catholic Press Month, preparing ourselves for our diocesan celebration of World Communications Day on May 9, we look to the message of our Holy Father, Pope Francis, for World Communications Day to give us some perspective on our duties to communicate the truth to one another.
The title of his message is “Fake News and Journalism for Peace; The truth will set you free” (Jn 8:32). Fake news is something that we have heard about more frequently in the last several years. The duty of journalists – to report accurately, checking the facts – is something that seems to be missing in today’s media and communications methods.
The speed with which news travels on the Internet, Twitter and all of the other modern means of communication all lend themselves to a lack of verification in the spreading of what we might call “rumors.” We must take seriously the work of communication in the world today.
I have said it before and it is worth repeating, the First Amendment of our Constitution protects the right of free speech, especially joining in the same sentence the right to the free press and religion. What do these seemingly different entities have in common? It is “truth,” because journalism must always seek the truth, as does religion. If journalism or religion does not seek the truth, then it is immensely and patently false, and not worthy of the name. This is what we need to combat today.
If we look to the various TV news outlets, we see that they all seem to have their own point of view. All of the news that they report is an effort to bolster their point of view on politics or whatever is happening in the world, be it climate change or immigration. There is a tremendous duty that the new media have to always tell the “complete” truth.
We have named our own communications division here in the Diocese in Brooklyn and Queens “DeSales Media” because in the following of St. Francis DeSales we recognize that the responsibility of communication always rests in finding the truth.
But the truth is not easy to find. Our Holy Father tells us in his statement, “The tragedy of disinformation is that it discredits others, presenting them as enemies, to the point of demonizing them and fomenting conflict. Fake news is a sign of intolerant and hypersensitive attitudes, and leads only to the spread of arrogance and hatred. That is the end result of untruth.”
How can we find out what is truth and what keeps us from finding the truth and unmasking fake news? This is not an easy task, but we must be discerning listeners, we must make decisions about what we hear. We cannot, for example, just tune into one media outlet without recognizing what the others are saying. Perhaps some place in the middle is where the truth exists. We need to make a concerted effort to learn the truth on our own, so that we can clearly communicate to others what the truth is about.
In his message on communications, Pope Francis reminds us that the “Father of Lies” is the Devil himself and that first deception, that disinformation, happened in the Garden of Paradise when Adam and Eve were tempted to try to discover the truths that only God knew. There is this inner desire within the human person for the truth and the beauty which is the truth.
Yet, we must make it our business and task in life to find the truth. We can never forget the words that Jesus told us, “I am the way, the truth and the life.”
And our 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. This alone can liberate us: ‘The truth will set you free’” (Jn 8:32).
Pope Francis goes on to teach that the truth and peace are the true news. When we understand the work of communication, which is, in a certain sense, to put everyone on the same page, to keep us united in the truth, communication brings about peace. The Holy Father invites those involved in the communication industry to promote a “Journalism of Peace.” He says, “A journalism created by people for people, one that is at the service of all, especially those – and they are the majority in our world – who have no voice.
A journalism less concentrated on breaking news than on exploring the underlying causes of conflict, in order to promote deeper understanding and contribute to their resolution by setting in place virtuous processes. A journalism committed to pointing out alternatives to the escalation of shouting matches and verbal violence.”
The work of communications in the world, especially the communications media, is putting out into the deep in seeking the truth in the Person, who is the “Way, the truth and the light.” Our Holy Father offers this Franciscan prayer, which gives us something to think and pray about.
Lord, make us instruments of your peace.
Help us to recognize the evil latent in a communication that does not build communion.
Help us to remove the venom of our judgements.
Help us to speak about others as our brothers and sisters.
You are faithful and trustworthy; may our words be seeds of goodness for the world:
Where there is shouting, let us practice listening;
Where there is confusion, let us inspire harmony;
Where there is ambiguity, let us bring clarity;
Where there is exclusion, let us offer solidarity;
Where there is sensationalism, let us use sobriety;
Where there is superficiality, let us raise real questions;
Where there is prejudice, let us awaken trust;
Where there is hostility, let us bring respect;
Where there is falsehood, let us bring truth.