VATICAN CITY — In his annual message to communicators around the world, Pope Francis again condemned the tendency for media to focus on “bad news,” saying journalists, while being accurate, must also offer a message of hope.
“We have to break the vicious circle of anxiety and stem the spiral of fear resulting from a constant focus on ‘bad news,’” such as war, terrorism, scandal and other human failures, the Pope said in his message for the World Day of Social Communications.
The message was published Jan. 24 to mark the feast of St. Francis de Sales, patron of writers, journalists and the Catholic press. The actual day of communications will be celebrated May 28 and will focus on the theme of the Pope’s message: “Fear Not, for I Am With You: Communicating Hope and Trust in Our Time.”
In his message, the Pope said steering clear of bad news “has nothing to do with spreading misinformation that would ignore the tragedy of human suffering,” and neither does it involve “a naive optimism blind to the scandal of evil.”
“Rather, I propose that all of us work at overcoming that feeling of growing discontent and resignation that can at times generate apathy, fear or the idea that evil has no limits,” he said.
Pointing to those in the communications industry who operate with the mentality that “good news does not sell,” and where evil and human suffering often become a form “entertainment,” Francis stressed that “there is always the temptation that our consciences can be dulled or slip into pessimism.”
He urged those who work in the field of communications to pursue “an open and creative style of communication that never seeks to glamourize evil,” but tries to focus “on solutions and to inspire a positive and responsible approach on the part of its recipients.”
“I ask everyone to offer the people of our time storylines that are at heart ‘good news,’” he said.
Pope Francis’ appeal for a more positive take on the news isn’t the first time he has made such a request, nor is it the first time he has criticized journalists who always focus on negativity and scandal.
In an interview with Belgian weekly magazine Tertio, published Dec. 7, 2016, the Pope gave a stern warning to journalists to steer clear of the temptations of slander, defamation, misinformation and focusing excessively on scandal.
A few months earlier, Francis dedicated his prayer intention for October 2016 to praying for journalists, specifically asking that they be truthful and ethical in their reporting.
In his message for communications day, the Pope noted that, thanks to modern technology, media “makes it possible for countless people to share news instantly and spread it widely.”
“That news may be good or bad, true or false,” he said, recalling how early Christians compared the human mind to a “constantly grinding millstone.” In this image, it is up to the miller to decide what grind: “good wheat or worthless weeds.”
For those who are constantly “grinding out information” in their personal and professional lives, it’s important to engage in “constructive forms of communication that reject prejudice toward others and foster a culture of encounter,” he said, adding that this will help everyone “to view the world around us with realism and trust.”
Christians should view reality through the lens of “the Good News par excellence: the Gospel of Jesus Christ, Son of God,” Francis said.
“This good news — Jesus himself — is not good because it has nothing to do with suffering, but rather because suffering itself becomes part of a bigger picture,” he said, noting that this suffering is “an integral part of Jesus’ love for the Father and for all mankind.”
With Christ, “even darkness and death become a point of encounter with light and life,” he said, adding that from here a hope “accessible to everyone” is born and “does not disappoint,” since from this hope God enters our hearts.
“Seen in this light, every new tragedy that occurs in the world’s history can also become a setting for good news, inasmuch as love can find a way to draw near and to raise up sympathetic hearts, resolute faces and hands ready to build anew,” he said.
Pope Francis then pointed to Jesus’ Ascension into heaven as an example of what our hope is based on, saying that even though the Lord might appear distant at the moment, “the horizons of hope expand all the more.”
With the help and power of the Holy Spirit, we can become “witnesses and communicators” of a renewed and redeemed humanity throughout the world, he said.
Confidence in “the seed of God’s kingdom” spread throughout the world ought also shape the way we communicate, he said, adding that this confidence allows everyone in the communications field to carry out their work with the conviction “that it is possible to recognize and highlight the good news present in every story and in the face of each person.”
In a Jan. 24 news briefing for the publication of the Pope’s message, Msgr. Dario Eduardo Vigano, prefect of the Vatican’s Secretariat for Communications, stressed the importance of having “constructive communication” that leans neither toward scandal nor optimism, but is realistic.
It’s important to not “make evil the protagonist,” even when reporting on tragic events, he said, and he also warned journalists to steer clear of hypocrisy, which he called an “impure gaze” of reality that “impedes charity.”
Also present at the briefing was Delia Gallagher, Vatican correspondent for CNN, who said the Pope’s document was “an opportune message” that’s important for news agencies to keep in mind.
She focused specifically on the need to be accurate when reporting the news, saying reporters “can’t be good journalists if they are not certain of the facts.”
Pope Francis’ message provides a path “to give the news accurately,” she said, and used the Pope himself and how he is often reported as an example.
While it’s not always easy to convey his message due to translations and a variety of other challenges, it’s important to stick to the facts and “to give the context when he says something,” rather than just reporting one snippet of what he said without offering the reader the full picture.
“It’s a job that seems easy, but requires experience,” she said, encouraging her colleagues to be accurate and precise, adding that “good news can also come from this.”