The responsibility of journalists
Media and the truth of man
“Truth and the Media” was the theme of the summer course organized by the Catholic University of Ávila, Spain, which ended on Thursday evening, 14 July, with an intervention by the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. The following is a translation from Italian of the Cardinal's intervention which he summed up for the Italian daily edition of “L'Osservatore Romano”.
Working in the media is exciting but challenging; it may seem easy only to those who have never really been involved in it. In fact, it is far from easy to serve people every day with words, because words by their nature point to the truth of things and are sacred. The sacred demands love and respect and rules out manipulation. Anyone who reveals the truth must let himself be guided by it but must also change his own life. His object is man, the history of man, the life of man, the news in which man plays the lead and which concerns him: the truth about man.
Media professionals are report on reality but not on a distorted reality; reality in its truth, neither partial nor made to serve interests which are not those of the good of the human being, of the individual person and of society, also in its truth. Our society is in deep debt to the truth. It suffers under the dominant powers of relativism which is without any doubt a cancer in our culture and in our society.
There is the absence or lack of freedom, despite appearances to the contrary; ersatz forms of freedom abound. All this is because truth is offended, because people seek to enslave it and, rather than serving it, use it for their own ends, and because reality is manipulated and made to serve their own interests and powers.
Here, professionals in the media, from those who direct and finance it to those who guarantee the simplest functions, have very great responsibility: there will only be a free society, a new civilization of love, a culture of life and peace amongst people if the means of communication serve the truth, the truth about man.
By recounting what they see, professional journalists reveal who they are. In reading an article, we immediately sense how the journalist treats human beings and things — either by trying to understand people as they are or by viewing them as material to be used as they please. When reality is sacred to a journalist the words with which he or she attempts to describe it are not subject to manipulation. They are words freely written and at the service of freedom and, always, inseparable from the truth.
The truth about things, about events, and about the human being demands of journalists work that they will only be able to carry ahead if they are free. Being free means belonging to the truth or, even better, being capable of staking everything on it. Their search for the truth, their passion for the truth, their service to the truth must be, in principle, one of their major contributions to building a free and democratic society on an ethical basis, to strengthening its morals, to overcoming the present crisis — which is not merely economic but also moral — because, basically, it is a failure, a crisis of the truth about man.
I fully share the sentiments of John Paul II who said to representatives of the media during his first visit to Spain in 1982: “The search for truth which cannot be renounced, demands a constant effort and calls for an adequate level of knowledge and for critical selection. It is not easy, as we know well. Every person has his own ideas, his preferences and also his prejudices. But those who are responsible for communications cannot shield themselves from what is commonly known as the impossibility of objectivity.
“Although complete and total objectivity is hard to achieve, it is not difficult to make the effort to discover the truth and to decide to offer the truth or to acquire the habit of not manipulating the truth and an approach of probity with regard to the truth; guided solely by an upright ethical conscience and without being swayed by false reasons of prestige or personal, political, economic or special interests”.
All professionals in the means of social communications, especially those who profess the Christian faith, will find in Jesus Christ, the witness to the truth who came to enlighten every man, enlightenment and a guide for their actions and their service. His presence is light and hope for the people, a source of unity for all, a humanizing principle for every man and every woman without exception, as well as healing and a future for all: his word is sought and heard because it conveys the truth. His word brings salvation, peace and hope for men. He is the Word who reveals the mystery of God and reveals to man his own mystery; in him we encounter the truth of God which is inseparably united to the truth of man.
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