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Pope condemns ‘fake news’ and calls for a ‘journalism of peace’ in WCD message

At the end of his message for World Communications Day 2018, Pope Francis included a prayer he wrote adapted from the “Prayer of St Francis.” The message was released at the Vatican on 24 Jan 2018, the feast of St Francis de Sales, patron saint of journalists. (CNS illustration/Joanna Korhorst)

VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis condemned “fake news” and called for a “journalism of peace” in his message for the World Day of Social Communications.

The Pope said that false news-which he described as “disinformation online or in the traditional media”-serves partisan political purposes. Fake news, he said, builds upon “stereotypes and common social prejudices.” He argued that in the internet era, the development of “homogenous digital environments” contributes to a situation in which inaccurate reports are not corrected or challenged.

The Pope’s message is entitled “The truth will set you free: fake news and journalism for peace.” The World Day of Social Communications will be observed on May 13. But the Pope’s message for that occasion is traditionally made public on January 24, the feast of St. Francis de Sales, the patron of journalists, to allow bishops’ conferences, diocesan offices and ‎communications ‎organisations sufficient time to prepare audiovisual and other materials for national ‎and local ‎celebrations.

In his message the Pope said: “The tragedy of disinformation is that it discredits others, presenting them as enemies, to the point of demonising them and fomenting conflict.” He decried the use of “falsehoods, rhetorical slogans, and sensational headlines” to suit partisan purposes, and said that conscientious journalists should pursue an “education for truth.”

“Amid feeding frenzies and the mad rush for a scoop, they must remember that the heart of information is not the speed with which it is reported or its audience impact, but persons,” the Pontiff said. He urged reporters to be “less concentrated on breaking news than on exploring the underlying causes of conflicts.”

Pope Francis even argued that some journalistic reports can be classified as “fake news” even when they are true. He wrote:

An impeccable argument can indeed rest on undeniable facts, but if it is used to hurt another and to discredit that person in the eyes of others, however correct it may appear, it is not truthful.

The papal message called for efforts by government and media outlets to weed out false news.

In a break from its usual practice, the Vatican did not schedule a press conference to introduce the papal text. But Msgr Dario Edoardo Vigano, the head of the Secretariat for Communications, reflected on the Pope’s message in an interview posted on the Vatican’s web site.

“False news is the result of prejudice and an inability to listen,” Msgr. Vigano said. “The dramatic effectiveness of this kind of content lies precisely in disguising its own falsehood, in appearing to be plausible to some…“

World Communications Day is the only worldwide celebration called for by the Second Vatican ‎Council (Inter Mirifica,” 1963)

The first World Communications Day was observed on 7 May 1967, under the pontificate of Blessed Pope Paul VI, who wanted to draw attention to the communications media and the enormous power they have for cultural transformation. This year’s observance is the 52nd edition. – CWN/vatican news

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