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Pope to Journalists: One Can Kill a Person With Words

Stressing That Few Professions Influence Society as Much as Journalism, Reminds Them of Their Responsibility as They Write ‘1st Draft of History’

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“There are few professions that have so much influence on society as journalism does,” Pope Francis has reminded journalists, and given this he has outlined to them three pillars which should always animate their important work.
When receiving in audience Thursday the Italian National Council of the Order of Journalists, Francis expressed this and underscored that journalists possess roles of great importance and of great responsibility. The Pope spoke after interventions were given by the Prefect of the Secretariat for Communication, Father Dario Edoardo Viganò, and of the President of the Order, Enzo Iacopino.
“In some way you write the ‘first draft of history,’ constructing the agenda of the news and introducing persons to the interpretation of events,” he told those present. “And this is so important.”
The Holy Father observed how social media has changed the roles of the media, but stressed that journalists are still important.
“Though the printed paper or television lose relevance in respect to the new media of the digital world – especially among young people – when journalists have professionalism, they remain an important pillar, a fundamental element for the vitality of a free and pluralist society.”
In face of the changes in the world of media, the Pontiff pointed out, “the Holy See has also lived and is living a process of renewal of the communicative system, of which you also should benefit; and the Secretariat for Communication will be the natural reference point for your valuable work.”
In fact, the statutes of the new Secretariat were also released Thursday.
Despite Deadlines, Reflect for a Moment
Francis then went on to reflect on some aspects of the journalistic profession, and how it can serve for the betterment of the society in which we live.
It is indispensable for all of us to pause to reflect on what we are doing and on how we are doing it. In the spiritual life, this often assumes the form of a day of retreat, of deeper interior reflection. I think that in the professional life, there is also need of this, of a bit of time to pause and reflect.
“This,” the Pope admitted, “is certainly not easy in the journalistic realm, a profession that lives with constant ‘delivery times’  and ‘expiration dates.’ But at least for a brief moment, we will try to reflect a bit on the reality of journalism.”
Pope Francis then proposed three essential pillars for all journalists: “to love the truth, something essential for all, but especially for journalists; to live with professionalism, something that goes well beyond laws and regulations; and to respect human dignity, which is much more difficult that one might think at first sight.”  
To Love the Truth
To love the truth, the Pope explained, does not only mean to affirm it but to live it, to witness it with one’s work — “to live and work, therefore, with coherence in regard to the words that one uses for a newspaper article or a television service.” He noted that the question here is not whether one is or is not a believer, but rather whether one is or is not being honest with oneself and with others.
“Relationship is the heart of every communication. This is all the more true for one who makes of communication his metier. And no relation can stand and last in time if it rests on dishonesty.”
“I realize that in today’s journalism – an uninterrupted flow of facts and events reported 24 hours a day, and seven days a week – it is not always easy to arrive at the truth, or at least to come close to it. In life not all is white or black. In journalism also, it is necessary to be able to discern between the shades of grey of the events that one is called to report.”
“The political debates, and even many conflicts, are rarely the outcome  of clear, distinctive dynamics, where we recognize clearly and unequivocally who is wrong and who is right,” Francis observed, noting, “The confrontations are sometimes clashes; at bottom, they are born in fact from the difficulties of synthesis among the different positions.”
Yet, the Holy Father stressed, this is the work, or even “the mission” of the journalist: “to come as close as possible to the truth of the facts and never say or write something that one knows, in conscience, is not true.”
To Live With Professionalism
The Pope then turned to the second element, namely that “to live with professionalism means first of all – beyond what we can find written in deontological codes – to understand, to interiorize the profound meaning of one’s work.”
“From here stems the need not to subject one’s profession to the logics of partisan interests, whether economic or political. A task of journalism, I dare say its vocation is, therefore – through attention, care in seeking the truth – to have man’s social dimension grow, to foster the building of  true citizenship.”
The Pontiff discussed the necessary freedom of journalists, recalling how “in the course of history, dictatorships – of whatever orientation or ‘color’ – have always sought not only to control the means of communication, but also to impose new rules on the journalistic profession.”
Respecting Human Dignity
While noting that respecting human dignity is important in every profession, the Pope stressed this is especially true in journalism, “because behind the simple reporting of an event there are also sentiments, emotions, and, in short, the life of individuals.”
“I have often spoken of gossip as ‘terrorism,’ about how one can kill a person with the tongue. If this is true for individual persons, in the family or at work, it is all the more true for journalists, because their voice can reach all, and this is  a very powerful weapon. Journalism must always respect a person’s dignity. An article is published today and, tomorrow, it will be replaced by another, but the life of a person unjustly defamed can be destroyed forever. Criticism is certainly legitimate, and I will say more, necessary, as is the denunciation of evil, but this must always be done respecting the other, his life, his affections. Journalism cannot become a “weapon of destruction” of persons and even of peoples. Nor must it fuel fear in face of the changes and phenomenons such as migrations forced by war and famine.”
Pope Francis concluded with his prayers and expressing his hope “that increasingly and everywhere journalism is an instrument of construction, a factor of common good, an accelerator of processes of reconciliation, which is able to reject the temptation to foment clashes, with a language that blows on the fire of divisions, and, instead, that it foster the culture of encounter.”
“You journalists can remind all every day that there is no conflict that cannot be resolved by women and men of good will,” he said.
On ZENIT’s Web page:
Full Text: https://zenit.org/articles/popes-address-to-italian-journalists/

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Deborah Castellano Lubov

Deborah Castellano Lubov is Senior Vatican & Rome Correspondent for ZENIT; author of 'The Other Francis' ('L'Altro Francesco') featuring interviews with those closest to the Pope and preface by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Parolin (currently published in 5 languages); Deborah is also NBC & MSNBC Vatican Analyst. She often covers the Pope's travels abroad, often from the Papal Flight (including for historic trips such as to Abu Dhabi and Japan & Thailand), and has also asked him questions on the return-flight press conference on behalf of the English-speaking press present. Lubov has done much TV & radio commentary, including for NBC, Sky, EWTN, BBC, Vatican Radio, AP, Reuters and more. She also has contributed to various books on the Pope and has written for various Catholic publications. For 'The Other Francis': http://www.gracewing.co.uk/page219.html or https://www.amazon.com/Other-Francis-Everything-They-about/dp/0852449348/

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