The Pope Speaks Out Against Fake News - A Commentary
Saint Francis de Sales (1567-1622)
In his message for the 52nd World Communications Day, Pope Francis called for a “journalism of peace” as a rampart against fake news.
The term “fake news” has become a part of journalistic vocabulary since the last American presidential election; it applies to disinformation or lies published online or in the traditional media outlets.
While there is nothing new about this phenomenon – how many lies are spread in the name of “freedom of the press” and “the right to information”! –, it has taken on new dimensions now that “many people interact in homogeneous digital environments impervious to differing perspectives and opinions,” explained Francis.
“None of us can feel exempted from the duty of countering these falsehoods”; the pope considers that everyone is responsible, not just journalists. For the logic inherent is fake news is that of the “serpent”, the father of lies, as the book of Genesis calls him. “The most radical antidote to the virus of falsehood is purification by the truth,” said the Pope.
It is quite true that these days, the most outrageous news stories are able to spread like wildfire thanks to the internet, and thus deceive or manipulate minds. Verifying and comparing sources and studying a given subject in depth take time. But with the press, news – by definition – has to be immediate. It is thus easy to consume excessively and even become intoxicated.
The danger can also come from the fact that the source is generally serious and reliable, or considered “well-informed”; an official website is not a blog, a blog is not a forum, but sometimes an official website bases its news story on a blog or a forum.
The author or publisher of false information always gives it some plausibility, with a real fact that leads to believe that, or to conclude that, then to accuse… or to denounce…, and ideally the information is exclusive (a “scoop”), which makes it even more interesting. The reader’s insatiable curiosity is momentarily satisfied.
Sometimes the information is only partial; sometimes it is just a biased presentation. Part of a sentence is taken out of context, or shortened, or falsely interpreted. The information is still only partial.
As Cardinal Ottaviani declared to journalists on January 29, 1959, the feast of St. Francis de Sales, their patron saint:
The constant search for truth and good is your mission, and at the same time your purpose, your life. Let none among you fail to be attentive, with a sense of deep responsibility, to the gravity of the duties that are yours….Tell the truth, but say it with love. Only thus will you impart the meaning of Christian peace to the embittered hearts of men, poisoned by a propaganda of hate and error, and only if you will honor and imitate your Patron who wrote: ‘He who preaches with love also preaches against heretics, though he does not utter a single word of argument against them.’ And to speak with love does not mean to speak without force. Love is a force which no other force can resist; it conquers all and carries all.
Sources: Zenit / Vatican News / FSSPX.News - 2/13/2018