World leaders would not be as threatened by the most advanced warhead of a hostile country today than a FAKE NEWS. No doubt, any fake news or information, which often goes viral, is a nightmare for celebrities or politicians. In our country even responsible people themselves increasingly circulate fake information to boost their foothold. One would get a little piece of truth only after wading through umpteen materials in an era that has been characterised as post-truth.
Pope Francis chose to address the problem of ‘fake news’ even as many, institutions, politicians and scholars have already begun discussion on the dangers of it. Fake news involves the “misleading distortion of facts, with possible repercussions at the level of individual and collective behaviour.” The text message for the World Communications Day 2018 was released on 24th the feast of St Francis De Sales though its theme was announced on 29th of September 2017 (feast of Archangels) through a twitter feed which was a first in the history of papacy. The message urges to prevent the spread of fake news and rediscover the dignity of journalism and the personal responsibility of journalists to communicate the truth.
A Moral Issue Than A Media Crisis
Pope views the proliferation of fake news not simply as a media problem but very much as a moral crisis. People have the temptation to distort facts for their benefit as they yield to their own pride and selfishness whose root cause is greed. Pope perceives the creation of fake news as a diabolic act and is directly related to the human vulnerability to sin as well as mimicry. “There is no such thing as harmless disinformation; on the contrary, trusting in falsehood can have dire consequences.” Therefore, he calls for a “profound and careful process of discernment” in order to identify and prevent the way disinformation works.
Francis decries the economic and manipulative aims that feed disinformation. Politicians, corporates, false gurus and business people do it craving for power, and a desire to possess and enjoy. Pope argues that the deceptive power of evil that moves from one lie to another robs people of their interior freedom. We Indians are repeatedly witnessing now how fake news plays a significant role in winning electoral politics. Disinformation primarily appears in social media and online news portals, however many mainstream media publish a number of unverified, disinformation. Dishonest and fraudulent online dissemination of information would weaken the democratic process significantly as admitted by Samidh Chakrabarti, Product Manager of Facebook recently.
Truth and Freedom
The most radical antidote to the virus of falsehood suggested by Pope Francis is purification by the truth. The Christian ideal of “truth involves our whole life;” it provides a “sense of support, solidity, and trust,” and it “is something you can lean on, so as not to fall.” Pope explains that this truth is none other than Jesus Christ. We find truth when we experience it within ourselves in the loyalty and trustworthiness of the One who loves us. This alone can provide the true freedom.
Francis identifies two major ingredients of authentic and meaningful communication: freedom from falsehood and the search for relationship. Truth is inevitably linked to communion and goodness and is opposed to isolation, division, and conflict. Therefore, truth emerges from “free relationships between persons, (and) from listening to one another” and is not “imposed from outside.”
Truthful statements foster “healthy confrontation with other sources of information that could effectively challenge prejudices and generate constructive dialogue.” Pope cautions that even some undeniable facts if used to hurt another and to discredit a person it is not truthful. Truth of statements can be recognised from their fruits.
The Way Forward
In a time when people relentlessly spread information through social media, everyone is responsible to keep falsehood away from active discussion. Pope however suggests that journalists whom he calls “the protectors of news” have a greater responsibility to safeguard truth. Francis considers journalism not just as a job but also as a mission. In the inexorable combat to break news in the information market journalists should primarily consider persons because “informing others means forming others.”
In short, journalists should work for peace, which of course does not mean keeping silent but engage in a media service that serves everyone, especially those who have no voice, a section that forms the majority in our world. It is a journalism concentrated on exploring the underlying causes of conflicts, in order to promote deeper understanding and contribute to their resolution by setting in place virtuous processes.
The world sustains itself on truth. Our ancient philosophers, spiritual reformers and political heroes have served and fostered Truth, which they considered God. In an era of misinformation and spurious news it is everyone’s responsibility, particularly of the responsible people and journalists to disseminate true information not only because it sustains the democratic process, but also because it is the ‘adhaar’ of our life.
This article was published in Indian Currents 05th Feb 2018, Vol XXX, Issue o6