By Robin Gomes
“The Holy See considers the freedom of press and media, which should act as an instrument for conveying transparent and factual information, as an essential component to promoting democratic values and more just societies.” It also “wishes to underline the right of individuals to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas, also when it comes to religious and moral issues,” said Monsignor Janusz Urbańczyk, Holy See’s Permanent Representative to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
Contribution of faith groups
Addressing an OSCE meeting on media freedom on May 13, he regretted “many preoccupying instances where private individuals and public officials or bodies seek to frighten or intimidate Christians, Jews, Muslims and members of other religions from expressing their faith-based opinion in the public sphere and hinder them from taking an active part in society”. This intolerance, he said, is often advanced through accusations of “hatred” or “hate speech”, equating religious beliefs to hate and thus depicting religion as a problem.
On the contrary, Msgr. Urbańczyk said “the media should be encouraged to provide a platform for a wide range of views, including the perspective of different religions. This would allow a “much richer and broader representation of all members of society and inspire their exchange of ideas and views” for the good of society.
He pointed out that the OSCE favours and encourages representatives of religious communities to participate in public discussions which would provide alternative perspectives and moral views on current issues.
Rights imply duties
The Holy See representative also emphasized that freedom of expression also entails responsibilities that cannot be ignored. “For example,” he said, “freedom of expression must be subject to more stringent limits to protect children.” The human person and the human community, he stressed, must be the end and measure of the media of social communication. Since media are instruments and tools, they should be used for the integral development of persons.
In this context, Msgr. Urbańczyk drew attention to the internet and social media, especially with regard to misinformation. News and even images can be easily manipulated, for any number of reasons, at times simply for sheer narcissism. Without demonizing the internet, he called for “greater discernment and responsibility for contents both sent and received”. “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.”
Women’s rights and participation
Msgr. Urbańczyk also backed the efforts of OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media in advancing equal opportunities for women in the communication sector, as well as in promoting the protection of all journalists, especially women, from violence of any kind. He said, “We must thus recognize the importance of women’s participation and engagement in all aspects of cultural, social, political, and economic life.”