NAPLES, Italy, MARCH 9, 2006 (Zenit.org).- In the age of relativism, a journalist’s relationship to truth has become his profession’s fundamental ethical question, says Joaquín Navarro Valls.
The director of the Vatican press office offered a “Reflection on Ethics and Journalism” when he received an honorary doctorate in communication sciences on Feb. 24 from the Sister Ursula Benincasa University of Naples.
“It is a very academic reflection, with some considerations on the subject of journalistic truth and the position a journalist should uphold,” explained Navarro Valls.
The Vatican spokesman affirmed that “research in great university or public libraries today gives a surprising result: The greater number of publications on communication speak of topics that directly or indirectly refer to the ethics of journalism.”
One deduces from the research, he said, that “the authors of a great part of that bibliography are journalists or researchers of journalism,” which “seems to signify that, from the point of view of its practice, journalistic activity presents ethical problems today that do not have a simple solution.”
“Why has the ethical consideration become the first source in bibliographies on the journalistic profession?” asked Navarro Valls. “And why is it that to a large extent it is scholars and even communications professionals who judge, often in critical tones, the ethical dimension of present-day journalistic activity?
“There is the perception that the commercialization of the news industry, namely the invasion of ‘market reasons’ in the obtaining and diffusion of news, opens a large space of ethical risk in the field of journalism.”
Journalism tries to oppose this reality with a strategy such as “deontological cataloguing,” said Navarro Valls.
“Practically all professions configured socially are equipped with ‘ethical codes,'” with “normative propositions that regulate the journalist’s activity both in the obtaining of news as well as in its elaboration, up to the moment the news appears printed in the newspaper,” he said.
In the media dynamic, as in other sectors of human activity, “we witness today the same phenomenon: Ethical values have lost either their presence or their binding nature,” contended Navarro Valls.
According to the Vatican spokesman, these difficulties in assuming ethical binding have their primary origin in an “ambiguous perception of the existential relationship with the concept of truth,” which in the present cultural debate “seems very obscured.”
Although “culturally, the confrontation on truth seems decidedly anti-modern,” it “does not take away from this concept its inevitable character, above all for those who have chosen as their own professional career the transmission of information,” he said.
“To know the truth, to recognize it, even to admire it, is not enough,” affirmed Navarro Valls. Man must “freely choose the truth, recognize it as such” and “be faithful to it to the end.”
Faithful to self
Only in this way will he be “faithful to himself, that is, to his own identity,” he added. “Therefore, contempt for truth is contempt for oneself. A communications agent is always, even before the act of communicating, a witness. What is attested is a personal experience, known as true.”
The journalist, in fact, “fulfills a very singular function,” the Vatican spokesman said. “He has chosen, as his professional activity, to unite the relationship with the person to whom he communicates with his personal relationship with the truth he has experienced.”
It is no surprise, he added, “that in the many ethical questions posed to journalism, the exigency is implicit to return to a testimony in which an experience of truth is immanent. … Herein lies, above all, the difference between propaganda and journalism.”