What I Have Seen and Heard
Published: January 31, 2008
The Holy Father issued his annual message to those who work in the media last week. He challenged them to abide by a code of ethics that allows the great and seemingly limitless potential of communications to serve the unity and the development of the human family rather than merely to respond only to the demands for profit or the manipulation of facts and data to achieve an ideological end.
It was a challenge that needed to be made and oft repeated. Our world, after all, has been changed forever because of the power of these massive technological and communicational forces for good and occasional harm. We know that the media has the capacity to rally the compassion and outreach of the entire world in response to a tsunami in Asia or a hurricane in Louisiana. It can also shape public opinion in ways that marginalize or neglect the needs and rights of people it might deem expendable.
My two long-standing priest friends and I all bring laptops, cell phones and BlackBerries with us on our vacations. Each morning the kitchen table may seem like a pressroom as we review our e-mail and messages from chancery staff or parish offices. I know that vacation time is suppose to be down time, but the world of communications makes it so convenient to stay in touch that it’s almost addictive. Well, for some of us it is an addiction! The three of us also share technology discoveries and new ways to use the ever-changing sources of knowledge and information. Admittedly, we might just be aging clerical geeks!
Communications and media capabilities have made it possible for on-the-spot sharing of information, which can and should be a tremendous blessing in bringing the human family together. Yet the rush of data also can be overwhelming at times. We now can have so much information available to us that we lack the time and the space to evaluate and to judge its significance.
The media can fill our lives with so many facts that we seem helpless to know what is truly important and what is only of peripheral significance. The media can even influence us in ways in which they choose to determine for us how we view and judge the issues of life.
Thus the flirtatious and scandalous behavior of a young Hollywood starlet can receive far more media attention than the devastation of entire regions of the globe. The antics of sports figures can be broadcast so incessantly that they seem even more significant than the starvation of children living in poverty in our own society. In other words, the media can manipulate the information that they broadcast in such a way that the trivial seems to be important and the significant seems only secondary.
The Holy Father’s message challenges the media (secular and religious) to help people to understand and to accept those truths and values that will build up the human family and help us all to live more productive and enriching lives.
The pope’s message is also a summons for the Church herself to make better and more effective use of the media and the technology of communications so that we can use its great potential for the advancement of the Gospel and the mission of Christ Jesus.