Pope Francis confers Knighthood on Malaysian former SIGNIS VP for commitment to social communication
SIGNIS Projects: new equipment to promote spiritual wellbeing through Radio Faraja FM, Tanzania
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI encouraged us to communicate the Gospel by approaching new media through the lens of our missiology
Oscar Romero, our patron saint, was martyred because of his work to speak truth to power. He challenged others to join him in being a “microphone of God,” advocating for peace by challenging people with power who were abusive and subjugating people who were poor.
Oscar Romero’s witness is a powerful one for Catholic journalists. How can journalists be advocates for peace, a “voice for the voiceless?”
The obvious answer is that we strive to tell the Truth. Sometimes the truth is not so obvious, however. Today, when propaganda (i.e., “fake news”) is so prevalent and rancorous, truth often gets trumped by lies and misinformation. Professional journalists hold up impartiality as a standard. Is that enough?
In October, the Reuters Institute published their 2021 Digital News Report. According to their research, “most people agree that news organizations and journalists should reflect all sides of an issue and not push a particular agenda.”
Yet, they note that committed partisans believe traditional media coverage is not impartial. This belief is being reinforced by the spread of partisan sources, whether that is someone with a website, a YouTube channel, a Twitter account or other digital platform.
Journalists find it increasingly difficult to counter propaganda from highly partisan sources with what has traditionally been called “balanced reporting.”
And sometimes we’re our own worst enemy.
For instance, balanced reporting, or objectivity, is sometimes presented as offering the two opposing sides equal time, as in a debate. Sometimes it seems – and there appears to be evidence to support this theory – that some media outlets create division and foment controversy by providing only two, diametrically opposite, points of view. Controversy sells!
Readers/viewers feel as if they must take sides: I’m either for or Cover story Cover story against. There’s no nuanced suggestion that there could be common ground on which to build consensus. Is our attempt to be impartial unintentionally encouraging strife and hatred?
I believe journalists must hold two truths in balance, and in doing so we can encourage peace-making.
One truth is that each of us is a unique person. Each of us reflects God’s grace and love in a way that is not duplicated by anyone else. Each of us has an innate dignity as a human being, to be respected and honored, to have a voice.
A second truth is that no person is complete unto himself or herself. We are only able to build a more just society, where each person’s humanity is respected, by working together. Progress and the wellbeing of individuals only happens when a group of people become a community, people working for the common good in a united effort.
Today, these two truths are often twisted and presented as being in destructive tension. Individual rights vs. the common good: which is more important?
This destructive twisting of these truths harms our own dignity and the dignity of others.
Polarization and fragmentation happen because we harden ourselves into self-focused individuals, intent upon protecting our own. We create a “zero sum” world where there are a few “winners” and everyone else loses out. But we know there is another way to encounter others: by recognizing that our very uniqueness is what God uses to create communion. We don’t abandon our true identities to enter into a Way of Truth. Instead, our perspective enriches and builds up the communion of God’s people. My individuality is not a stumbling block, or in opposition to, communion, but it is absolutely necessary for communion to happen.
In this way, we become those microphones of God, voices for the voiceless, and truth-tellers to a world desperately needing to heal and come together.