Media’s role in world peace

This is interesting. It’s not that a pope encouraging the communications media to be responsible is exactly headline news….

But it’s the text beneath the headline and the story behind the news release that are worth pursuing.

Here’s the news release from the pope addressing the European Broadcasting Union:

“In today’s society”, [Pope Benedict] continued, “the basic values of the good of humanity are in play, public opinion … is often found disoriented and divided”. In this context he noted that “it is a duty to provide every day, correct and balanced information and a profound debate that seeks the best shared solutions regarding these questions in a pluralistic society. It is a task that requires great professional honor, correction and respect, an openness to different perspectives, clarity in treating problems, freedom from ideological barriers, and an awareness of the complexity of problems”.

I’m wondering at this point how well they’re listening and whether they’d take this message to heart, but what he said was really for a global audience.

Religion contributes by ‘purifying’ reason, helping it not to fall prey to distortions, such as manipulation by ideology or partial application that fails to take full account of the dignity of the human person”. In this sense the Pope invited the professionals in communications to “seek ways of promoting and encouraging dialogue between faith and reason, with a view to serving the common good of the nation”.

While emphasizing the difficulties that need to be faced in their service, the Pope stressed that “the challenges of the modern world on which you have to report are too great and too urgent for you to become discouraged or tempted to give up in the face of such difficulties”.

The Holy Father concluded by encouraging them to put their “contacts and activities at the service of reflection and commitment” with the aim of “ensuring that the instruments of social communication promote dialogue, peace and development of peoples in solidarity, overcoming cultural separation, uncertainties and fears”.

This reminds me of a letter I received not long ago from a young Rwandan woman studying journalism in London, who followed some of my writing and asked me to contribute thoughts on the media handling of the Rwandan genocide for her research. Here’s how she described the intent of her paper: 

This dissertation will be written by a critical journalism student, who wants to understand the role of the International media when it comes to wars in developing countries and its role in preventing the genocide in Rwanda.

She said she wanted to

explore the role of International media, its intervention and strategies in tackling genocides and other conflicts in the third world countries.

My aim is to understand the media’s responsibility in such a delicate situation where it should play a role of prevention, protection and education. And for future journalists like my classmates and future academic work, I hope this will help to use our journalistic role responsibly and never use it to spread hatred, thus making our journalistic powerful position a second weapon to crimes against humanity.

This dovetails exactly with what Pope Benedict said (and keeps saying) about the role of media in the world. Pope John Paul II said “Communications is a moral act.” It’s reassuring and encouraging that young adults entering the media are taking that responsibility seriously.