Pope Benedict XVI sent a message to Catholics who watch TV or movies, or read periodicals that’s in a line with his warning about the “dictatorship of relativism.” In his World Communications Day address, he spoke about finding the truth in the media.
The Communications Day theme this year uses a nice little turn of phrase: “Searching for the Truth in Order to Share It With Others.” It’s a good application of the Christian vocation to the media-driven world in which we live.
In the message, the Pope recognizes the pervasive presence of the media in contemporary society, “Truly, there is no area of human experience, especially given the vast phenomenon of globalization, in which the media have not become an integral part of interpersonal relations and of social, economic, political and religious development,” he writes. He doesn’t say that with a sigh. That influence is often positive, he points out. But he does warn against the violence and vulgarity that the media often bring to entertainment and the manipulation they can bring to the news.
In the Zenit news service, Legionary Father John Flynn provided some examples to illustrate the Holy Father’s arguments.
He saw news manipulation in the reporting on the numbers of people who attended a Church-sponsored, pro-family rally Dec. 30 in Madrid. Organizers claimed that 1 to 2 million people were present. Madrid’s municipal authorities said it was easily a million. But El País, the socialist-inclined Spanish daily, reported Dec. 31 that no more than 160,000 people attended the event. One report, on the Internet-based Periodista Digital, further reduced the number in a Dec. 30 chronicle of the rally to “thousands.”
The Spanish daily El Mundo caught another distortion in the media coverage: In spite of the importance of the rally and the interest in the event by many Catholics in Spain, no television station, apart from a minor one run by the Church, bothered to provide a complete transmission of the rally held in Madrid.
Father Flynn cited other examples of media manipulation.
Down Under, the copycat hit “Australian Idol” banned participants from talking about religion and, in a public appearance held at the Sydney Motor Show, the final six contestants on the program were instructed not to answer questions about their religion or personal beliefs. The show’s creator, Fremantle Media, was reportedly upset that some of the participants were being supported by a large Christian audience.
In Hollywood, he saw more examples. The film Elizabeth: The Golden Age caused protests for its biased historical vision. On Nov. 2, the eve of its release in Britain, the Telegraph newspaper published an article listing the many historical faults in the production. Register readers saw Steven D. Greydanus’ review telling how the film portrayed Catholics uniformly as traitors and conspirators.
Sometimes it seems the media purposely sets out to offend Christians, notes Father Flynn. A Sept. 21 report on the London-based Times newspaper website informed readers about “a beer-bellied, hip-hop styled, Jesus,” featured in a publicity campaign for a Belgian television station. The station, part of the European media company RTL, also portrayed Jesus flanked by two bikini-clad blondes.
Meanwhile, in the United States, the Catholic League recently protested the comedy musical Jerry Springer: The Opera, which in January was scheduled to run at New York’s Carnegie Hall. Said Catholic League President Bill Donohue: “It’s an all-out assault on Christianity.”
The show has played in a number of locations over the last few years, causing protests wherever it goes. In England the BBC broadcast the show in 2005 — and got challenged in court by Stephen Green of the evangelical group Christian Voice, who brought blasphemy charges against the BBC.
A final decision came when the High Court of Justice ruled that broadcasters and theaters staging live productions could not be prosecuted for blasphemy. One article noted that the BBC received a record 63,000 complaints about the show when it was broadcast.
Offending Islam gets a different reaction, of course. A digital book version of The Three Little Pigs was turned down from an awards competition sponsored by an agency of the British government because it could offend Muslims, who consider pigs unclean. In a Jan. 23 article the BBC recounted that Becta, an educational technology agency, rejected a digital version of the classic tale from its Bett Award competition, because the judges warned that “the use of pigs raises cultural issues.”
Instead of falling into the errors of materialism and relativism, Benedict XVI recommended that the media “can and must contribute to making known the truth about humanity, and defending it against those who tend to deny or destroy it.”
This is particularly urgent, he said, in the current context where the new media are changing the nature of communication.
We all search for the truth. The media can help us find it.
“Let us ask the Holy Spirit,” Benedict XVI concluded, “to raise up courageous communicators and authentic witnesses to the truth.”