VATICAN CITY, JAN. 24, 2003 ( In his message for World Communications Day 2003, John Paul II highlights the grave responsibility of the media to promote peace.

The "media often do render courageous service to the truth, but sometimes they function as agents of propaganda and misinformation in the service of narrow interests, national, ethnic, racial and religious prejudices, material greed, and false ideologies of various kinds," the papal message states.

"It is imperative that the pressures brought to bear on the media to err in such ways be resisted first of all by the men and women of the media themselves, but also by the Church and other concerned groups," the Holy Father continues.

The message, published today on the feast of St. Francis of Sales, patron of journalists, has as its motto "The Communications Media at the Service of Authentic Peace in the Light of 'Pacem in Terris,'" a reference to Pope John XXIII's 1963 encyclical. World Communications Day this year will be observed June 1.

In the 1963 encyclical, published at the height of the Cold War, John XXIII pointed to truth, justice, charity and freedom as the pillars of a peaceful society.

Over the last decades, "the power of the media to shape human relationships and influence political and social life, both for good and for ill, has enormously increased," John Paul II says, adding that the "fundamental moral requirement of all communication is respect for and service of the truth."

Because of this, the Church defends "the right to freedom in investigating the truth and -- within limits of the moral order and the common good -- to freedom of speech and publication as necessary conditions for social peace," the message clarifies.

"While it is true that the media often belong to particular interest groups, private and public, the very nature of their impact on life requires that they must not serve to set one group against another -- for example, in the name of class conflict, exaggerated nationalism, racial supremacy, ethnic cleansing and the like," the Pope explains.

"Setting some against others in the name of religion is a particularly serious failure against truth and justice, as is discriminatory treatment of religious beliefs, since these belong to the deepest realm of the human person's dignity and freedom," he stresses.

"Freedom is a precondition of true peace as well as one of its most precious fruits. The media serve freedom by serving truth: They obstruct freedom to the extent that they depart from what is true by disseminating falsehoods or creating a climate of unsound emotional reaction to events," the Pope emphasizes.

"Only when people have free access to true and sufficient information can they pursue the common good and hold public authority accountable," he says.

The Holy Father concludes by assuring his prayers, so that "the men and women of the media will ever more wholly live up to the challenge of their calling: service of the universal common good. Their personal fulfillment and the peace and happiness of the world depend greatly on this."