Formation in the correct use of the media
Bishop Adam Lepa
The negative influence of the media on children and young people, and first of all the numerous errors made by parents and teachers, makes us treat formation in correct use of the media as an important and categorical demand. Families that are able to prepare their children to use the press, radio, television and Internet properly are exceptions. Educational activities are still temporary, often incidental, and do not exert much influence on family pedagogy. Recently Pope Benedict XVI has spoken about this issue. The words of the Successor of St Peter should be carefully analysed so that his suggestions could be implemented as soon as possible.
One cannot be reluctant to educate to use the media in an appropriate way. If adults are addicted to the media and accept their content unquestioningly the main reason is that they have not been prepared to use the media before. On the Feast of the Ascension, during the ‘Regina Caeli’ prayer, Benedict XVI appealed to educate young people to use the media. We should remember that in Western countries the World Communications Day is celebrated on this feast (in Poland it falls on the third Sunday of September). Therefore, the Pope devoted much of his speech to the media. We should add that the expression ‘formation to the media’ is a mental shortcut and it means formation in the correct use of social communications. Today this expression has been used in Poland and in many Western countries. During the prayer the Pope referred to his message for the World Communications Day and its theme ‘Children and the Media: A Challenge for Education.’ He stressed that the mass media competed with school, Church and even the family. In this context, an adequate formation in the correct use of the media is essential. The Ecclesial Community should provide such a formation. The responsibility is laid on everyone. Benedict XVI emphasized that we should educate children and youth to be selective and to develop a critical attitude. Only then young users of the media can cultivate a taste for what is aesthetically and morally valid. At the same time they will reject the programmes that instil violence and anti-social behaviour and as such they are harmful to the development of children and young people.
The Pope assigned concrete tasks to those responsible in the media industry: to suggest the most important policies and through them promote the hierarchy of values. Implementing these policies social communications workers should safeguard the common good, respect the truth and protect the dignity of the person and the family. The message of the Bishop of Rome is an important memento to parents and teachers as well as the media workers. First of all, it confirms the fact that the Church takes more initiatives in media education than the school. In contrast to the latter the Catholic pedagogy claims that it is not enough to ‘teach about the media’ but we should educate to use the media. Since knowledge about the media, even a very wide one, does not help to solve complicated problems and ordinary dilemmas resulting from using the media. For example, knowledge of the history of aggressive advertisement or its mechanisms will not teach young people to maintain detachment from the matter. Similarly, a pupil will not learn to prefer responsibilities to watching television even if he gets to know all the secrets of television techniques. In order to require these skills one needs to work on one’s character, i.e. to remove negative attitudes and customs formed by the media (e.g. the attitude of being addicted to the media or the attitude of Machiavelism) and to create positive attitudes in a consistent way (e.g. the critical attitude or the attitude of selective use). In order to do that one needs constant formation of the will, deepening of intellectual penetration, following healthy evaluation of reality and applying certain elements of asceticism (mortification, control over emotions, avoidance of fancies and whims, etc.)
In the Catholic pedagogy the means that the Church has worked out are indispensable. These include examination of conscience that will consider one’s attitude towards the media, meditation on the principles applied when one uses the media or appropriate prayer, e.g. to the Holy Spirit for the grace to evaluate properly the content of radio, television and Internet programmes. The formation in the correct use of the media, which is thus understood, ‘involves the whole person, and not only his intellect or emotions.’
As it has been already mentioned Benedict XVI appealed to the social communications workers. They do not only influence their level or development but also the kind of influence and attitude towards the receivers. If the social communications workers follow only the rules of the market people are pushed to the background and are hurt when for example they fall prey to manipulation or cunning camouflage. Because of that it should be reminded that formation in the use of the media from the perspective of the Catholic pedagogy fulfils another ambitious objective. We mean such a formation of media users that will make them effectively influence the media, contributing to positive changes in their functioning.
The Catholic formation in the use of the media includes all their social and political contexts. So such issues as freedom of speech and dignity of human person, conditions for pluralism in the media, the media order in the state and its threats, dependence of the media on the system of government (democracy, oligarchy, totalitarianism) are being discussed. Thus the Catholic pedagogy inspires to take parallel actions that supplement the formation of proper attitudes of the media users. As an example we can mention formation in the truth (to be sensitive to hypocrisy), formation in being open to silence (to think more) or formation in choosing books (to read more than to watch).
The Church, which has gained experiences in education throughout centuries, has been able to discern what is most important in educating people in the use of the media. The Church follows the good of people and not the interests of media concerns and corporations. At the same time she counts on her media to a great extent. Since only these media (as non-profit ones) can join the big current of activities that are to provide effective education in the use of social communications. Pope Benedict XVI reminded us of the Church’s task to educate people to use the media. The media of the Church face the challenge, too. Today this educational commitment is one of the most important challenges, which the church media have faced.