Francis warns journalists against libel and fear-mongering

The Pope today, addressing journalists. (Photo: Osservatore Romano)

The Pope today, addressing journalists. (Photo: Osservatore Romano)

[Austen Ivereigh] Journalism should never stoke social fears over forced migration nor destroy people’s lives through defamatory claims, Pope Francis said today, as he suggested three points for media to reflect on.

“Few professions have as much influence on society as journalism,” Pope Francis told a delegation of Italy’s Order of Journalists this morning in the Clementine Hall. “In a way you write the ‘first draft of history’, creating the news agenda and interpreting events for people,” he said, adding that even at at time of change in the news media, professional journalism remains “a key element for the vitality of a free and pluralist society.”

He suggested three points for their reflection: love of truth, professionalism, and respect for human dignity.

First, love of truth means not just affirming truth but living it, being honest and coherent with oneself, while acknowledging that getting at the truth was not simple and that journalism was partly about discerning between shades of grey. But he said reporters “should never say or write anything they know in conscience to be untrue.”

Second, professionalism means going beyond codes and guidelines in order to “internalize the deep meaning of one’s own work”. It also means not surrendering journalism to particular economic and political interests. “The proper task of journalism, I dare to say its vocation, is therefore … to grow the social dimension of man, to encourage the creation of a true citizenship.” Which is why, the Pope added, dictatorships of all stripes have always sought to take over the media and restrict the activities of journalists.

Third, respect for human dignity, while important in every profession, is particularly necessary in journalism, because behind the reporting of events lie emotions and concrete lives. Recalling his description of gossip as terrorism  — because people can kill with their tongues — the Pope said this was even more true in journalism because it can reach many people, “and this is a powerful weapon”. An article published today or tomorrow will be immediately replaced, Francis went on, “but the life of a person unjustly defamed could be destroyed for ever”. Journalism can and must be critical, but never become a “weapon of destruction” against individuals or entire peoples — nor stoke fears over social changes or phenomena such as migration made necessary by hunger and war.

He went to call for journalism to be “a means of building up, an element of the common good, a driver of reconciliation, that rejects the temptation to encourage conflict with language that blows on the fire of divisions, but rather favours the culture of encounter”.

“You journalists every day can remind people that there is no conflict that cannot be resolved by men and women of goodwill,” he added.

[CV translation from the Italian]

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