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Critical conscience not to fall into the trap of fake news

“Education for truth means teaching people how to discern, evaluate and understand our deepest desires and inclinations, lest we lose sight of what is good and yield to every temptation.” It’s an important indication of method, a veritable theological act, for discernment underlies the activation of a gift of the Spirit. As such, in the framework of news media, it requires three indispensable keys: conversion, human maturity and competence

(Foto: Vatican Media/Sir)

It is worthwhile reading, studying and deepening the Message of Pope Francis for the World Day of Social Communications 2018. The Message is directed not only to media workers but also to all those who intend to develop a critical conscience without falling into the trap of the so-called ‘fake news’.

The title of the Message of the Holy Father encompasses a meaningful horizon: “Truth will set you set you free (Jn 8:32). Fake news and journalism of peace.” In fact, the entire message is rooted in clear Biblical setting, as was the 2017 Message for the Day. Already in the opening remarks the Pope refers to the two known Biblical stories of Cain and Abel and of the Tower of Babel to underline that “when we yield to our own pride and selfishness, we can also distort the way we use our ability to communicate.” With hindsight it becomes evident that the entire history of humanity, in its relationship with God, is interwoven with His callings, reprimands and blessings, until the bestowal of the gift of the Truth of Christ: a supreme act of communication. Therein lies the noblest reference of the Message on which is grounded the final appeal of Pope Francis to “promote a journalism of peace.”

Thus “The truth will set you free” is not a mere slogan or a pacifier of our inner struggles. It’s not an abstract concept or a mental projection. “Truth – states the Holy Father – is something you can lean on, so as not to fall. In this relational sense, the only truly reliable and trustworthy One – the One on whom we can count – is the living God. Hence, Jesus can say: “I am the truth” (Jn 14:6). We discover and rediscover the truth when we experience it within ourselves in the loyalty and trustworthiness of the One who loves us. This alone can liberate us: “The truth will set you free” (Jn 8:32).”

We hereby discover that we have acquired two powerful antidotes against the virus of the fake news:

Authenticity and relations.

Indeed, it’s a challenging task, and it will be necessary to devote great efforts to it: fake news, by nature, poisons our relationships by adopting the strategy of the “crafty serpent” found in the Book of Genesis – is Francis’ reminder -, as was “created the first fake news (cf. Gen 3:1-15), which began the tragic history of human sin, beginning with the first fratricide (cf. Gen 4) and issuing in the countless other evils committed against God, neighbour, society and creation.”

What should be done? We must discern. “Preventing and identifying the way disinformation works also calls for a profound and careful process of discernment”, writes the Pope, who adds, further on, that “education for truth means teaching people how to discern, evaluate and understand our deepest desires and inclinations, lest we lose sight of what is good and yield to every temptation.”

An important indication of method, a veritable theological act, for discernment underlies the activation of the Gift of the Spirit. As such, in the context of news media, it requires three indispensable keys: conversion, human maturity and competence.

Conversion  to assume that very inner predisposition that enables the overcoming of whatever unfairly affects the human person.

Human maturity to be communicators with a free heart, capable to listen attentively and respectfully. Moreover, to be people with a sound orientation of life.

Competence to adopt a critical understanding of the development/significance of events. This should not be done with haughtiness, for without humbleness and charity no discernment is possible. Competence echoes /rhymes with the concept of conscience.

These three important keys prevent us from falling into the trap of the fake news, as Paul VI said already in 1972, to “accomplish the truth in every circumstance.”

(*) prefect of the Secretariat for Communication of the Holy See

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