Seeking truth in media
Bishop Adam Lepa
The postulate formulated in the title refers to the main theme of the message of Benedict XVI delivered for the World Day of Social Communications last year. The Successor of St Peter challenged the people of the media to seek the truth so that they could share it with receivers of social communications. At the same time the receivers should seek the truth in the media, in a way checking to which extent journalists seek the truth and share it in press, on radio and television. Therefore, we should use the media critically to be able to answer the question how much truth they contain.
John Paul II did very much to make us sensitive to the truth. He wanted his countrymen not to be indifferent to the fact whether the media tell the truth or lie. The meaningful thing is that every time he spoke to journalists he stressed the role of the truth in their vocation. We will remember his words spoken to the Polish bishops gathered in the Vatican in 1998 in the pilgrimage ‘ad limina Apostolorum.’ One must remember that the proper aim and task of social communications is service to the truth and its defence.’ It means that information in the media should be presented in an objective and reliable way, avoiding manipulation and the attitude that is corruptible towards the truth. One can conclude from the various statements of John Paul II concerning journalists that they show respect for the receivers of their own media only when they fully respect the truth in their work. So when they disdain the truth they show contempt for readers, listeners and viewers. Reflecting on this issue one should pose a fundamental question. Why do media tell lies? Certainly, these are not only errors, the so-called accidents at work or unlucky, ill-time coincidences. False information is passed on purpose and often in a refined way so that even educated people can be fooled and deceived to such an extent that they incline others to accept the false news as ‘absolutely sure.’ It is worth realising that journalists in the media lie for profits (material and political) and the saying ‘where money speaks, truth remains silent’ comes true. Facing the dilemma ‘mission or money’ the former loses and so the truth loses. The media also tell lies because their journalists act submissively according to the binding political correctness. Lying in the media is also the consequence of journalists’ indolence: they do not tell the complete truth because they cannot do it. This is simply beyond their abilities: intellectual and moral. Moreover, the people of the media tell lies because they feel exempt from punishment. They are generally not held accountable for their lies and the facts of ignoring the truth are not condemned. This misuse is easy to do because currently in Poland lying has become a method in politics and all kinds of propaganda. We can feel calm a little knowing that in our country there are journalists for whom the truth is the supreme or even sacred value. They defend the truth and are its courageous witnesses, risking losing certain goods, especially being admitted to the political salons that decide about their careers and fame. We can seek the truth in the media in various ways. Using comparison we learn whether a concrete event from the life of the Church (important to millions of Poles) has been honestly treated in information services broadcast by various radio and television stations, for example what was said on the Feast of the Epiphany about the efforts of hundreds of Polish Catholics who want to make it a national holiday. That’s why the principle of getting information from various sources turns out to be indispensable. In her official documents the Church encourages us to practice this principle. Thanks to it one can find out cases of falsification of the truth in media reports and one can avoid the influence of manipulation. The propaganda technique of passing over in silence is used in such cases.
Another way of seeking the truth in the media is talking about it to other people who use them in a critical way. It makes it easier for us to deal with the attitude of naivety in media reception, the attitude that orders us to take everything for granted. Furthermore, one should not regret time for a deepened reflection on the truth in the media. Many of them want us not to reflect on the news and so do the managers of advertisements. Regular reflections on the fate of the truth in the media make us open our eyes and let us understand what and why has been camouflaged. One can also receive the news from the media using proper help such as encyclopaedias, dictionaries, and textbooks on the history of the Church, collections of documents of John Paul II and Benedict XVI. The Catholic press also helps us to seek the truth in the media. They write straightforwardly about various traps in the media as far as the truth is concerned and how the media manipulate their receivers. As it is known manipulating is a way of conscious lying to individuals and society. The irreplaceable help in seeking the truth is the media is prayer, especially prayer to the Holy Spirit. The Catholics who prepare themselves to the sacrament of confirmation learn during the religious instruction lessons that Christ promises his followers ‘that Spirit of truth whom the world can never receive since it neither sees nor knows him’ (John 14:17). We cannot squander this gift in our contacts with the media. The patron feast of journalists celebrated on the liturgical remembrance of St Francis de Sales, i.e. 24 January, is a suitable occasion to ask ourselves important questions on the subject of media. Especially we should ask the most important question – about the presence of the truth in them. Let this question always return when we think with care about the media in Poland: public and commercial ones. Let them always be able to pass the truth in an uncontaminated and attractive way since the truth makes man free only when he learns it (see John 8:32).