Vatican Commentary on World Communications Day

Media «Can Foster Greater Unity or Create Divisions and Conflict»

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VATICAN CITY, MAY 6, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Here is the commentary published by the Pontifical Council for Social Communications on the occasion of the World Day of Social Communications, May 8.

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39th World Day of Social Communications
Theme: «The Communications Media: at the Service of Understanding between Peoples»
May 8, 2005

Commentary / Reflections

«Indeed, the media have enormous potential for promoting peace and building bridges between peoples. The media can teach billions of people about other parts of the world and other cultures. Accurate knowledge promotes understanding, dispels prejudice, and awakens the desire to learn more,» wrote Pope John Paul II, in his message for the 39th World Day of Social Communications.

In this year’s message, the Holy Father focuses on a topic which is of particular importance today: the relationship between peoples and cultures and the key role the media can play in promoting peace and understanding through their daily efforts.

Reflecting on the current reality, we cannot remain indifferent to the critical situations in our world. This message, along with the message for the World Day of Peace, calls on all of us and especially the communications media to serve the common good – a good which can be concretely realized by favoring understanding between peoples.

The Holy Father reminds us that not only our actions, but also our words and other forms of communication have consequences. Each person must pay attention to the choices in words used and to the ways to which other people are referred as they can foster greater unity or create divisions and conflict. Those who have the privilege of working in the communications media reaching wide audiences have a special responsibility in this area.

Many conflicts have their roots in prejudices and misunderstandings which one people has of another one, either close or faraway. This view of society is created and sustained in large part on the basis of information received from the media. The messages communicated can bring forth a spirit of solidarity and understanding with other people, or one of rejection and antagonism. «When others are portrayed in hostile terms, seeds of conflict are sown which can all too easily escalate into violence, war, or even genocide.»

For this reason, the message compels us to confront what could lead to an irresponsible use of the instruments of the communications media, so powerful in influencing the human spirit.

«Images especially have the power to convey lasting impressions and to shape attitudes. They teach people how to regard members of other groups and nations, subtly influencing whether they are considered as friends or enemies, allies or potential adversaries.»

Recently, a very encouraging experience showing the efficacy of the mass media took place at the end of 2004 when a great mobilization of solidarity came about in favor of the peoples of Asia. In his message, the Holy Father notes: «It was heartening to see how quickly the international community responded to the recent tsunami that claimed countless victims. The speed with which news travels today naturally increases the possibility for timely practical measures designed to offer maximum assistance. In this way the media can achieve an immense amount of good.» This dynamism in communications showed the coming together of timely information with a personal and social commitment and generous response.

In this way, the Pope has at all times called on all people of goodwill to give the best of themselves, to be promoters of peace in a world marked by conflict. This call is more urgent when directed to men and women working in the media. He reminds them that the greatest example of communication is Jesus Christ: «The Incarnate Word has established a new covenant between God and his people – a covenant which also joins us in community with one another. ‘For he is our peace, he who made both one and broke down the dividing wall of enmity, through his flesh’ (Ephesians 2:14).»

Breaking down dividing walls and building bridges are two great challenges of communication which face all of us, both as individuals and professional communicators. It is necessary to work so that nobody is influenced by prejudices or is a source of them, and to ensure that communication is transformed into an instrument «to strengthen the bonds of friendship and love that clearly signal the onset of the Kingdom of God here on earth.»

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