The View From Here – Pope’s message outlines the perils of fake news, calls for “journalism of peace”

Tom Henihan

On “World Communications Day,” January 24, Pope Francis released a message called “The truth will set you free: Fake news and journalism for peace.”

The Pope’s opening paragraph is worth quoting as it elevates language and communication to a place of veneration as opposed to the lurid and corrupting ends for which is it now constantly used.

Communication is part of God’s plan for us and an essential way to experience fellowship. Made in the image and likeness of our Creator, we are able to express and share all that is true, good, and beautiful. We are able to describe our own experiences and the world around us, and thus to create historical memory and the understanding of events. But when we yield to our own pride and selfishness, we can also distort the way we use our ability to communicate. …The capacity to twist the truth is symptomatic of our condition, both as individuals and communities. On the other hand, when we are faithful to God’s plan, communication becomes an effective expression of our responsible search for truth and our pursuit of goodness.

Our capacity to communicate through language, to convey abstract ideas, to be inspired by songs and poetry, to ensure cultural continuity and cohesion through storytelling, exemplifies how language is humanities most profound achievement, without which little else would be viable.

The Pope’s message says we must not only adhere to truth but also respect the means through which that truth is conveyed and not degrade language by using it as an instrument of hubris and lies.

We see fake news as affecting others; the gullible, those on the fringes who want to hear only that which reaffirms their existing position.

We believe that only the uneducated, who lack the sophistication to understand the complexities of the world are prone to the damages of fake news.

Fake news can be both overt and relentless while at the same time subliminal and insidious.

The majority of people may recognize fake news as fake, but its effects are corrosive and the damage it does is deep and extensive, which affects all of us.

Fake news is different from someone simply saying something that is untrue or exaggerated.

Fake News has an anarchistic mission to undermine trust in journalism and by extension undermine our institutions, allowing those in power to circumvent truth and accountability.

The Pope sees the efficacy and reach of fake news as stemming from its ability to masquerade as real news and to appear believable. He says that fake news appeals to stereotypes and existing social prejudices and triggers highly responsive emotions such as “anxiety, contempt, anger and frustration.”

It is apparent, that relentless exposure to false information and its convoluted and misleading language, is casting a pall over our political and social affairs.

Incessant fake news is disorienting both intellectually and morally and leads only to emptiness and despair.

Unless we are already lost, where else can we see dishonesty taking us? Certainly not to a place of enlightenment.

On this matter I think it is appropriate to give Pope Francis the final word:

I would like, then, to invite everyone to promote a journalism of peace. By that, I do not mean the saccharine kind of journalism that refuses to acknowledge the existence of serious problems or smacks of sentimentalism. On the contrary, I mean a journalism that is truthful and opposed to falsehoods, rhetorical slogans, and sensational headlines. A journalism created by people for people, one that is at the service of all, especially those – and they are the majority in our world – who have no voice.

 

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