By Robin Gomes
The Catholic Church is marking its World Communications Day on Sunday, May 13.
The annual day was established by Pope Paul VI in 1967 to encourage Catholics to reflect on the opportunities and challenges that the modern means of social communication offer the Church to communicate the Gospel message.
World Communications Day is celebrated in most countries on the Sunday before Pentecost Sunday. However, in some countries, the day is marked on the solemnity of Ascension.
Ahead of each World Communications Day, the Pope issues a message on a particular theme. “‘The truth will set you free’ (Jn 8:32). Fake news and journalism for peace,” is the theme of the message of Pope Francis for this year’s observance.
In his message, the Pope warned of the “dire consequences” of disinformation spread through fake news, that is fueled by “greed” and the “thirst for power,” and thrives on the absence of a “healthy confrontation” necessary for “constructive dialogue.” In today’s rapidly evolving world of communications, the Pope asked those working in the media to “promote a journalism of peace” that is truthful and helps to form others, but which is not harmful or sentimental, overlooking serious problems.
Journalism of peace - crucial
Vatican News approached Indian Cardinal Oswald Gracias, Archbishop of Bombay and asked him how important “journalism of peace” was in today’s world, including in India.
According to the cardinal who is president of the Catholic Bishop's Conference of India (CBCI) as well as of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC), it is “very crucial” for “journalism for peace” to fight fake news.
Cardinal Gracias expressed satisfaction that Pope Francis has chosen the theme of the truth setting one free. God, he said, has given us the media, the facility to “communicate the truth”, and as the Holy Father says, “evil forces” have begun to use communications “to give not the truth but give falsehood,” which is fake news.
Fake news – challenge for Church
This, the cardinal said, is very dangerous, because the end result could be disharmony, anger, prejudice or hatred based on absolutely nothing, falsehood. Combatting fake news is a challenge for the Church and its media offices have got to take it seriously, said Cardinal Gracias who is a member of the Council of Cardinals (C9), the group of nine cardinals chosen by Pope Francis to advise him on his reform efforts.
Fake news - challenge for India
Fake news, he pointed out, is also a challenge for the government of India. One needs to distinguish between fake news and truth, how not to allow fake news to influence ourselves and how to counter fake news in the media by giving the truth.
This, Cardinal Gracias said, is a ”tremendous” challenge which needs those specialized in the media also to advise the Church.
Fake news, Cardinal Gracias continued, is particularly dangerous for India whose richness is its variety of religions, language and cultures, where harmony is very important. And anyone not happy about harmony could create divisions. The sowers of fake news are the enemies of truth, enemies of the country and are forces of evil, which need to be combatted in every way possible.