Pope Francis issued his World Communications Day message on January 23, saying that the risk of misinformation being spread on social media was now widely recognized.
“We have known for some time that news and even images can be easily manipulated, for any number of reasons, at times simply for sheer narcissism,” he wrote. “Being critical in this regard is not about demonizing the internet, but is rather an incentive to greater discernment and responsibility for contents both sent and received.”
His Holiness went on to say: “All of us are responsible for the communications we make, for the information we share, for the control that we can exert over fake news by exposing it. All of us are to be witnesses of the truth: to go, to see and to share.”
Earlier this month a false report that Italian police had arrested the pope amid a Vatican “blackout” was widely shared on the internet, including a Canadian news site.
In his message, the pope also stressed the internet’s positive qualities.
“Digital technology gives us the possibility of timely first-hand information that is often quite useful,” he said. “We can think of certain emergency situations where the internet was the first to report the news and communicate official notices. It is a powerful tool, which demands that all of us be responsible as users and consumers. Potentially we can all become witnesses to events that otherwise would be overlooked by the traditional media, offer a contribution to society and highlight more stories, including positive ones.”
The pope signed the message on January 23, the Vigil of the Memorial of St. Francis de Sales, patron saint of writers and journalists. World Communications Day, established by Pope Paul VI in 1967, will be celebrated in many countries this year on Sunday, May 16. The day will be observed as the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord in places where it is transferred from Thursday, May 13 to Sunday.
In his message, Pope Francis issued an impassioned call to journalists to recommit themselves to “original investigative reporting.”
“Insightful voices have long expressed concern about the risk that original investigative reporting in newspapers and television, radio and web newscasts is being replaced by a reportage that adheres to a standard, often tendentious narrative,” he wrote. “This approach is less and less capable of grasping the truth of things and the concrete lives of people, much less the more serious social phenomena or positive movements at the grassroots level.”
The theme of this year’s World Communications Day, the 55th commemoration, is “‘Come and See’ (Jn 1:46) Communicating by Encountering People as They Are.” The pope quoted approvingly advice that the Spanish Blessed Manuel Lozano Garrido (1920-1971) once gave fellow journalists: “Open your eyes with wonder to what you see, let your hands touch the freshness and vitality of things, so that when others read what you write, they too can touch first-hand the vibrant miracle of life.”
He concluded with a prayer:
Lord, teach us to move beyond ourselves,
and to set out in search of truth.
Teach us to go out and see,
teach us to listen,
not to entertain prejudices
or draw hasty conclusions.
Teach us to go where no one else will go,
to take the time needed to understand,
to pay attention to the essentials,
not to be distracted by the superfluous,
to distinguish deceptive appearances from the truth.
Grant us the grace to recognize your dwelling places in our world
and the honesty needed to tell others what we have seen.
FCC News Desk