Vatican: media needs 'info-ethics'

 Pope Benedict XVI's Message for the World Day of Social Communications, due to be celebrated on 4 May, was issued yesterday, the Feast of St Francis de Sales, patron saint of journalists. The title this year is: 'The Media: At the Crossroads between Self-Promotion and Service. Searching for the Truth in Order to Share it with Others'. In his message, the Pope said: "The theme of this year's World Communications Day ... sheds light on the important role of the media in the life of individuals and society. Truly, there is no area of human experience, especially given the vast phenomenon of globalisation, in which the media have not become an integral part of interpersonal relations and of social, economic, political and religious development". "In view of their meteoric technological evolution, the media have acquired extraordinary potential, while raising new and hitherto unimaginable questions and problems. There is no denying the contribution they can make to the diffusion of news, to knowledge of facts and to the dissemination of information: they have played a decisive part, ... in the spread of literacy and in socialisation, as well as the development of democracy and dialogue among peoples". "Indeed, the media, taken overall, are not only vehicles for spreading ideas: they can and should also be instruments at the service of a world of greater justice and solidarity. Unfortunately, though, they risk being transformed into systems aimed at subjecting humanity to agendas dictated by the dominant interests of the day. This is what happens when communication is used for ideological purposes or for the aggressive advertising of consumer products. While claiming to represent reality, it can tend to legitimise or impose distorted models of personal, family or social life. Moreover, in order to attract listeners and increase the size of audiences, it does not hesitate at times to have recourse to vulgarity and violence, and to overstep the mark. The media can also present and support models of development which serve to increase rather than reduce the technological divide between rich and poor countries. "Humanity today is at a crossroads. ... We must ask, therefore, whether it is wise to allow the instruments of social communication to be exploited for indiscriminate 'self-promotion' or to end up in the hands of those who use them to manipulate consciences. ... Their extraordinary impact on the lives of individuals and on society is widely acknowledged, yet today it is necessary to stress the radical shift, one might even say the complete change of role, that they are currently undergoing. Today, communication seems increasingly to claim not simply to represent reality, but to determine it, owing to the power and the force of suggestion that it possesses. It is clear, for example, that in certain situations the media are used not for the proper purpose of disseminating information, but to 'create' events". "The role that the means of social communication have acquired in society must now be considered an integral part of the 'anthropological' question that is emerging as the key challenge of the third millennium. Just as we see happening in areas such as human life, marriage and the family, and in the great contemporary issues of peace, justice and protection of creation, so too in the sector of social communications there are essential dimensions of the human person and the truth concerning the human person coming into play. ... For this reason it is essential that social communications should assiduously defend the person and fully respect human dignity. Many people now think there is a need, in this sphere, for 'info-ethics', just as we have bioethics in the field of medicine and in scientific research linked to life. "The media must avoid becoming spokesmen for economic materialism and ethical relativism, true scourges of our time. Instead, they can and must contribute to making known the truth about humanity, and defending it against those who tend to deny or destroy it. ... Utilising for this purpose the many refined and engaging techniques that the media have at their disposal is an exciting task, entrusted in the first place to managers and operators in the sector. "Yet it is a task which to some degree concerns us all, because we are all consumers and operators of social communications in this era of globalisation. The new media - telecommunications and internet in particular - are changing the very face of communication; perhaps this is a valuable opportunity to reshape it, to make more visible, as my venerable predecessor Pope John Paul II said, the essential and indispensable elements of the truth about the human person". Source: VIS