Pope’s Communications Day Message: Countering "fake news" by seeking the truth
By Alessandro Gisotti
We need a kind of journalism that is less concentrated on "the mad rush for a scoop", and more on seeking the truth and to “pointing out alternatives to the escalation of shouting matches and verbal violence".
In his Message for World Communications Day, Pope Francis urges communications professionals to return to the foundations of their calling, or rather, their "mission" to be, what he calls, "the protectors of news".
The theme of the message, "The truth will set you free. Fake news and journalism for peace", is particularly timely. Even though, as Pope Francis recalls, his predecessor, Pope Paul VI, chose the theme of information "at the service of truth" for his Social Communications Day Message in 1972.
Disinformation discredits people and foments conflicts
In the first part of the Message, the Pope analyzes the phenomenon of fake news. Fake news, he observes, is meant to "deceive and manipulate the reader". He notes that sometimes its dissemination can "influence political decisions, and serve economic interests". Nowadays, the distribution of fake news often relies on a “manipulative use of social networks" that can cause it to go viral.
The tragedy of disinformation, says Pope Francis, “is that it discredits others, presenting them as enemies" to the point of "fomenting conflict". He notes how fake news often has its roots "in a thirst for power" and how it "moves from one lie to another in order to rob us of our freedom".
Fake news is based on “snake-tactics" and is never harmless
In his Message, Pope Francis invites everyone to counteract these falsehoods, and he stresses the need for "educational programmes" that can teach us to “take an active part in unmasking falsehoods, rather than unwittingly contributing to the spread of disinformation”.
Referring to the Book of Genesis, the Pope observes how, at the heart of fake news lie the "snake-tactics" of the “crafty serpent” who “created the first fake news". The Pope writes how the Tempter practices a “sly and and dangerous form of seduction that worms its way into the heart with false and alluring arguments” – in the same way that fake news does.
According to Pope Francis, this biblical episode demonstrates how “there is no such thing as harmless disinformation”. On the contrary, “trusting in falsehood can have dire consequences”, because “even a seemingly slight distortion of the truth can have dangerous effects".
The search for truth is the most radical antidote to the virus of falsehood
Pope Francis quotes Dostoevsky, an author he greatly admires, when he writes: "People who lie to themselves and listen to their own lie come to such a pass that they cannot distinguish the truth”.
“Purification by the truth”, continues the Pope in his Message, is “the most radical antidote to the virus of falsehood". That is why Pope Francis identifies “freedom from falsehood and the search for relationship" as the “two ingredients that cannot be lacking if our words and gestures are to be true, authentic, and trustworthy".
Journalists are the “protectors of news”
“The best antidotes to falsehoods are not strategies, but people”, writes Pope Francis: “People who are not greedy but ready to listen, people who make the effort to engage in sincere dialogue so that the truth can emerge". He goes on to highlight the responsibility of journalists to inform.
Journalists, says the Pope in his Message, are "the protectors of news". Theirs is not just a job but a mission: "Amid feeding frenzies and the mad rush for a scoop, they must remember that the heart of information is not the speed with which it is reported or its audience impact, but persons”.
Promoting a journalism of peace that builds communion
Pope Francis concludes his Message with a heartfelt appeal for a "journalism of peace". He specifies that this is not “saccharine kind of journalism that refuse to acknowledge the existence of serious problems", but a journalism “that is truthful and opposed to falsehoods, rhetorical slogans and sensational headlines".
The Pope describes a kind of journalism “created by people for people", a journalism that is “at the service of all, especially those…who have no voice".