- Theme for 2018: “‘The truth will set you free’ (Jn 8:32). Fake news and journalism for peace”
I warmly welcome Pope Francis’ message for World Communications Day 2018, which we celebrate on Sunday.
This year’s theme, “‘The truth will set you free’ (Jn 8:32). Fake news and journalism for peace”, is particularly relevant in our era of social media and digital communications. The theme also resonates strongly this week in Ireland as we count down to the referendum on the Eighth Amendment on 25 May.
In his message this year, Pope Francis gives us advice and guidance about “fake news” and encourages us to promote a journalism of peace. All of us need to ask ourselves “what is ‘fake news’?” Pope Francis tells us “fake news” is “false but believable news” that is sensational and often goes viral. It is the “spreading of disinformation online or in the traditional media … based on non-existent or distorted data meant to deceive and manipulate the reader”. It seeks to “advance specific goals, influence political decisions, and serve economic interests”.
Fake news spreads arrogance and hatred; it discredits others, presenting them as enemies, to the point of demonizing them and fomenting conflict. The current referendum debate, including the decisions this week by Google and Facebook to shut down digital advertising regarding the referendum, has generated its fair share of accusations and counter accusations of fake news.
Pope Francis tells us that we can recognise the truth of statements from their fruits – whether they provoke arguments and cause division or promote informed mature dialogue and discussion with friends, family, colleagues and loved ones. He tells us: “Informing others means forming others; it means touching peoples’ lives”.
He chose to publish his message on the Feast of Saint Francis de Sales, patron saint of journalists and writers. This great saint preferred to confront the hostility of his time with the example of holiness and love. If he were around today, I expect his advice to all those in the media would be: “teach and proclaim the truth with love”.
This applies especially to those who work in the media. The Pope describes the work of journalists as not just a job but a mission. He invites them to promote a “journalism of peace” – journalism that is truthful, and opposed to falsehoods, rhetorical slogans, and sensational headlines. He says journalists are the “protectors of news” with a responsibility to expose the truth at all times and hold people to account.
Pope Francis’ words are also relevant to all of us, because more and more we are all using a wide variety of media to spread our news and opinions. Our world is rich in communications resources and our era is often described as the age of “democratic journalism”. The way we express ourselves has changed radically and we can now instantly share our ideas on a multiplicity of platforms.
As we reflect on the message of Pope Francis, I join with the Holy Father in encouraging Catholics and all people of goodwill to be more authentic, active and “truth-full” witnesses in the new digital world.
- Archbishop Eamon Martin is Archbishop of Armagh and chair of the Council for Communications of the Irish Bishops’ Conference.
- A special feature on World Communications Day is now available on the homepage of catholicbishops.ie which includes background to World Communications Day and the message of Pope Francis for 2018. World Communications Day will be celebrated universally this Sunday 13 May, Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord.
For media contact: Catholic Communications Office Maynooth: Martin Long 00353 (0) 86 172 7678 and Katie Crosby 00353 (0) 86 862 3298