Celebrating World Communications Day
As mandated by Vatican II and established by Pope Paul VI in 1967, each year the Church celebrates World Communications Day on the Sunday before Pentecost. This year it falls on May 13th. The purpose of this worldwide celebration is to encourage reflection on the opportunities and challenges presented by the communications media.
This year, Pope Francis’s message focuses on the phenomenon of “fake news.” Entitled “The truth will set you free (Jn. 8:32). Fake news and journalism for peace,” the Holy Father encourages us to be discerning users of media, especially when reading the news. He says that fake news is effective due to its ability to mimic real news. One major contributor to fake news is the unfortunate habit some people have of getting their news from only one source. He says, “disinformation thus thrives on the absence of healthy confrontation with other sources of information that could effectively challenge prejudices and generate constructive dialogue (no. 1).”
The necessity of media literacy
One of the reasons Pope Francis wants people to be discerning when it comes to the news is that, if we don’t recognize fake news, we may, unwittingly, contribute to its spread. What to do? Learn media literacy. Our very mission here at the Pauline Center for Media Studies is to promote media literacy in the context of faith. The Pope mentions that “praiseworthy efforts are being made to create educational programs aimed at helping people to interpret and assess information provided by the media (no. 2).” This is what media literacy is all about: asking questions of the media to discern the truth. Click here for our article on fake news and ways to help your children learn how to spot it.
The lure of creating and propagating fake news, Pope Francis notes, comes from greed that has been around since the Garden of Eden. The original untruth came from the serpent addressed to Adam and Eve. He said to Eve, “You will not die,” (Gen 3:4) when she tells him of God’s instructions regarding the tree. We are called to resist the temptation brought about by manipulation of the truth. “That is why,” Pope Francis says, “education for truth means teaching people how to discern, evaluate and understand our deepest desires and inclinations, lest we lose sight of what is good and yield to temptation (no. 2).”
“The truth will set you free (Jn. 8:32)”
The media constantly bombards us with messages. Sometimes those messages are true, sometimes they are manipulated to seem true but are not. It can all feel very overwhelming when we come up against so much information. How do we defend ourselves? Pope Francis says, “the most radical antidote to the virus of falsehood is purification by the truth (no. 3).” But what does “purification by the truth” actually mean? Truth is more than just facts, something that is true or false. Francis describes the truth so eloquently that I’m going to quote the whole thing.
Truth involves our whole life. In the Bible, it carries with it the sense of support, solidity, and trust, as implied by the root ‘aman,’ the source of our liturgical expression Amen. Truth is something you can lean on, so as not to fall. In this relational sense, the only truly reliable and trustworthy One – the One on whom we can count – is the living God. Hence, Jesus can say: “I am the truth” (Jn. 14:6). 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).
Ultimately, truth is Jesus Christ, a person, a relationship, not just a bunch of cold, hard facts. When we are presented with news that may or may not be truthful, Pope Francis proposes that we can tell the difference from the fruits of the statement. He says, “whether they provoke quarrels, foment division, encourage resignation; or, on the other hand, they promote informed and mature reflection leading to constructive dialogue and fruitful results (no. 3).”
A “communications” take on the Prayer of St. Francis
In light of what the Holy Father has said about the truth in this World Communications Day message, he makes a special mention of the responsibility of journalists in the area of providing truthful information. He calls journalists the protectors of the truth, mentioning that their work is a mission rather than a mere job. He calls on journalists to be at the service of others, especially those who have no voice in the world. Not all of us are journalists but what Pope Francis says to journalists can also inspire us to remember to make all our communications, especially online communications, truthful ones, not misleading or deceptive, especially when representing ourselves. From truth comes peace.
To close the message for the 2018 World Communications Day, Pope Francis paraphrases the well-known Prayer of St. Francis. This might be a wonderful prayer to pray for those in media professions, especially journalists, but also for all of us, who are communicators in our own ways.
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 from our judgments.
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.