Vatican (UCAN, Jan. 25) – POPE Benedict XVI has emphasized the need for ethics in the media, and called on the media “to avoid being spokesmen for economic materialism and ethical relativism.”
Media “can and must contribute to making known the truth about humanity, and defending it against those who tend to deny or destroy it,” the pope urges in his message for the 42nd World Communications Day, which many dioceses will mark on May 4 this year.
Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli and Monsignor Paul Tighe, the new president and secretary, respectively, of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, presented the three-page document at a Vatican press conference on Jan. 24.
Focusing on “info-ethics,” it is titled The Media: At the Crossroads between Self-Promotion and Service, Searching for the Truth in Order to Share it with Others.
The pope begins by drawing attention to “the meteoric technological revolution” over the last two decades, through which the media “have acquired extraordinary potential” that “offers new possibilities for good, but at the same time opens up appalling possibilities for evil.”
The media have made a significant contribution in the field of information, he acknowledged, playing a “decisive part,” for example, “in the spread of literacy, in socialization” and “in the development of democracy and dialogue among peoples.”
Nonetheless, “they risk being transformed into systems aimed at subjecting humanity to agendas dictated by the dominant interests of the day,” Pope Benedict warns. This happens “when communication is used for ideological purposes or for the aggressive advertising of consumer products,” he explains.
“While claiming to represent reality,” the media “can tend to legitimize or impose distorted models of personal, family and social life,” he observes.
Moreover, the media “can present and support models of development which serve to increase rather than reduce the technological divide between rich and poor countries.”
“We must ask,” he says, “whether it is wise to allow the instruments of social communication to be exploited for indiscriminate ‘self-promotion’ or to end up in the hands of those who use them to manipulate consciences.”
His answer is that society needs to make it “a priority” to ensure that the media “remain at the service of the person and of the common good, and that they foster man’s ethical formation and inner growth.”
The pope also drew attention to another “radical shift” that has taken place in the media, leading to a situation in which “communication seems increasingly to claim not simply to represent reality, but to determine it, owing to the power and the force of suggestion that it possess.”
“In certain situations,” he elaborates, “the media are used not for the proper purpose of disseminating information, but to create events.”
In his view, “when communication loses its ethical underpinning and eludes society’s control, it ends up no longer taking into account the centrality and inviolable dignity of the human person” and “risks exercising a negative influence on people’s consciences and choices and definitively conditioning their freedom and their very lives.”
Pope Benedict calls on the media to “defend the person and fully respect human dignity,” and “be instruments at the service of a world of greater justice and solidarity.”
Archbishop Celli said the Pontifical Council for Social Communications wants to help achieve these goals and will hold two international conferences toward this.
In May it will bring together the heads of social communications faculties from Catholic universities worldwide. The following month it will gather the heads of all Catholic radio stations worldwide.
Monsignor Tighe recalled that UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) first brought up the concept of “info-ethics” about a decade ago. Now, he added, Pope Benedict notes how people are calling for “info-ethics” just like they call for bio-ethics in the medical field.
The Vatican official also paid tribute to “the many journalists who have given an extraordinary witness to their commitment to the truth.” Many of them, he pointed out, “have suffered persecution, imprisonment and even death because of this commitment and because of their unwillingness to be silent in the face of injustice and corruption.”
Monsignor Tighe said such witness is “an eloquent testimony to the highest standards to which the media can aspire.” (Gerard O’Connell, Special Correspondent in Rome)