News media has always come in for a lot of criticism – sometimes rightly, sometimes not.
But that goes with the territory of an institution that seeks to be a messenger, especially since the message it delivers is not always well received nor is it always believed.
That’s why Pope Francis’ annual World Communications Day message released Jan. 23 resonates so strongly, coming as it does after a year of fast-moving head-spinning events in this country and around the world.
In the age of instant communications and fake news, Pope Francis said, journalists, along with everyone else, have to recover the practice of going out and verifying information before they share it.
“‘Come and see’ is the simplest method to get to know a situation,” the pope wrote, referencing the theme of his message, “‘Come and See’ – Communicating by Encountering People as They Are.”
That’s the most honest test of every message, he wrote, because in order to know, “we need to encounter, to let the person in front of me speak, to let his or her testimony reach me.”
We certainly agree with that.
We also know how difficult it can be in a time when many of us, perhaps most of us, exist in a news bubble in which we literally dial out the news we don’t like and view or listen only to that which confirms our own opinions and beliefs – whether based on facts or not.
As the pope notes, “We have known for some time that news and even images can be easily manipulated for any number of reasons, at times simply for sheer narcissism.”
And in this hyper-partisan age, it’s even more important for those of us in media to present an accurate and balanced flow of news, and to make clear that opinions are just that: opinions.
In the same way, it’s critical for the general public to filter out the real news from the fake, the facts from opinions, and that’s not always easy.
It would seem impossible, for instance, to “spin” the story of a world that’s deep into a crippling pandemic, but even as U.S. COVID-19 deaths push close to 450,000, there still are some who perpetrate the notion that the coronavirus is a hoax.
Speaking against those who report or share information that has not been verified and that has no basis in fact, Pope Francis said: “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. All of us are to be witnesses of the truth: to go, to see and to share.”
We agree with the pope that all of us can benefit from the example of St. Paul, who, in Christianity’s earliest days, communicated its story to the world drawing upon his deep sense of “faith, hope and charity.”
To communicators of today, the pope prayed that God “grant us the grace to recognize your dwelling places in our world and the honesty needed to tell others what we have seen.”
This unsigned editorial was first published online on the website of Catholic New York, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of New York.