How Reporting on the Church Is Distorted

According to Communications Professor

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MADRID, Spain, MARCH 1, 2005 ( One of the greatest distortions when it comes to reporting on the Catholic Church lies in «favoring reactions over and above what is said,» says a professor of communications.

Diego Contreras, professor of information analysis and practice at the School of Communication of the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, offered that opinion in his opening address to the Assembly of Media Delegates, which met here recently.

According to Contreras, there is a tendency to «report on the echoes and responses elicited by statements of the ecclesiastical hierarchy, forgetting the original content of the statement.»

In this type of distortion «the reactions are favored over what was actually said; suffice it to hear what the discussion is about, … activating the stereotypes and leaving the content to one side,» he said.

This distortion permeates the faithful also, who sometimes believe the media more than those involved in the news, the professor lamented.

Another distortion of religious news is «the presentation of true data encrusted in credible but false interpretations,» he continued.

A third mechanism is the «use of stylistic resources to give the appearance that the text is based on information sought by the journalist.» For example, behind the phrase «‘according to ecclesiastical sources’ can be perceived the journalist himself who feels the need to ascribe to others what he thinks,» Contreras said.

«Sometimes it seems enticing to present the ecclesiastical world as opaque, impenetrable, or lacking in transparency» to justify the use of «less authoritative» sources,» added the vice dean of the School of Communication.

The problems in religious information do not only concern journalists but also the «transmitters,» the ecclesial institutions, he said. «Sometimes the failure must be attributed to the origin, and not always because of expressive awkwardness.»

In fact, many news items call for a «theologically trained» reader; therefore, the challenge is how to make «complex realities» reach the «general public,» the professor said.

At times the faithful themselves receive «the first and only news of those pronouncements through the media,» and Contreras suggested that it would be useful, at least in the presentation to the media, «to move from the institutional address, rigid and assertive, to the discursive character of the news itself.»

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