By Gilbert Ekezie
Catholic Pontiff Pope Francis has called on media practitioners to exhibit the habit of proper investigation of their stories before dishing them out to the public. He also admonished users and consumers of internet to be more responsible.
These were contained in his message entitled, “Come and See”, during the 2021 World Communication Day service held at the Holy Cross Cathedral, Lagos on Sunday.
He said the invitation to ‘come and see’, which was part of those first moving encounters of Jesus with the disciples, is also the method for all authentic human communication.
Francis stated that in order to tell the truth of life that becomes history, it is necessary for newsmen to move beyond the complacent attitude that we ‘already know’ certain things, but to go and see them, spend time with people, listen to their stories and confront reality, which always in some way surprises everyone. ‘Open your eyes with wonder to what you see, let your hands touch the freshness and vitality of things, so that when others read what you write, they too can touch first-hand the vibrant miracle of life. This was the advice that Blessed Manuel Lozano Garrido offered to his fellow journalists.’
He said, this year, he would like to devote the message to the invitation to ‘come and see’, which can serve as an inspiration for all communication that strives to be clear and honest, in the press, on the internet, in the Church’s daily preaching and in political or social communication.
‘This has always been the way that the Christian faith has been communicated, from the time of those first encounters on the banks of the River Jordan and on the Sea of Galilee.
‘Let us look first at the great issue of news reporting. Insightful voices have long expressed concern about the risk that original investigative reporting in newspapers and television, radio and web newscasts is being replaced by a reportage that adheres to a standard, often tendentious narrative.
‘This approach is less capable of grasping the truth of things and the concrete lives of people, much less the more serious social phenomena or positive movements at the grass roots level.’
Francis noted that the crisis of the publishing industry risks leading to a reportage created in newsrooms, in front of personal or company computers and on social networks, without ever ‘hitting the streets’, meeting people face to face to research stories or to verify certain situations first hand.
He pointed out that unless the media practitioners open themselves to the kind of encounter, they will remain mere spectators, for all the technical innovations that enable themselves feel immersed in a larger and more immediate reality.
‘Any instrument proves useful and valuable only to the extent that it motivates us to go out and see things that otherwise we would not know about, to post on the internet news that would not be available elsewhere, to allow for encounters that otherwise would never happen. That is how Christian faith begins, and how it is communicated: as direct knowledge, born of experience, and not of hearsay.’
The Pope commended the courage of many journalists, pointing out that journalism, as an account of reality, calls for an ability to go where no one else thinks of going: a readiness to set out and a desire to see.
‘I commend the curiosity, openness, passion of journalists. In fact, we owe a word of gratitude for the courage and commitment of all those professionals – journalists, camera operators, editors, directors – who often risk their lives in carrying out their work. Thanks to their efforts, we now know, for example, about the hardships endured by persecuted minorities in various parts of the world, numerous cases of oppression and injustice inflicted on the poor and on the environment, and many wars that otherwise would be overlooked. It would be a loss not only for news reporting, but for society and for democracy as a whole, were those voices to fade away. Our entire human family would be impoverished.
‘Many situations in our world, even more so in this time of pandemic, are inviting the communications media to “come and see”. We can risk reporting the pandemic, and indeed every crisis, only through the lens of the richer nations, of “keeping two sets of books”. For example, there is the question of vaccines, and medical care in general, which risks excluding the poorer people. Who would keep us informed about the long wait for treatment in the poverty-stricken villages of Asia, Latin America and Africa? Social and economic differences on the global level risk dictating the order of distribution of anti-Covid vaccines, with the poor always at the end of the line and the right to universal health care affirmed in principle, but stripped of real effect. Yet even in the world of the more fortunate, the social tragedy of families rapidly slipping into poverty remains largely hidden; people who are no longer ashamed to wait in line before charitable organizations in order to receive a package of provisions do not tend to make news.’
On the opportunities and hidden dangers on the web, the Pope said the inernet, with its countless social media expressions, can increase the capacity for reporting and sharing, with many more eyes on the world and a constant flood of images and testimonies.
‘Digital technology gives us the possibility of timely first-hand information that is often quite useful. We can think of certain emergency situations where the internet was the first to report the news and communicate official notices. It is a powerful tool, which demands that all of us be responsible as users and consumers. Potentially we can all become witnesses to events that otherwise would be overlooked by the traditional media, offer a contribution to society and highlight more stories, including positive ones. Thanks to the internet we have the opportunity to report what we see, what is taking place before our eyes, and to share it with others.
‘At the same time, the risk of misinformation being spread on social media has become evident to everyone. We have known for some time that news and even images can be easily manipulated, for any number of reasons, at times simply for sheer narcissism. Being critical in this regard is not about demonizing the internet, but is rather an incentive to greater discernment and responsibility for contents both sent and received. All of us are responsible for the communications we make, for the information we share, for the control that we can exert over fake news by exposing it. All of us are to be witnesses of the truth: to go, to see and to share.’
According to him, in communications, nothing can ever completely replace seeing things in person.
‘Some things can only be learned through first-hand experience. We do not communicate merely with words, but with our eyes, the tone of our voice and our gestures. Jesus’ attractiveness to those who met him depended on the truth of his preaching; yet the effectiveness of what he said was inseparable from how he looked at others, from how he acted towards them, and even from his silence.
‘The disciples not only listened to his words; they watched him speak. Indeed in him – the incarnate Logos – the Word took on a face; the invisible God let himself be seen, heard and touched, as John himself tells us (cf. 1 Jn 1:1-3). The word is effective only if it is “seen”, only if it engages us in experience, in dialogue. For this reason, the invitation to “come and see” was, and continues to be, essential.’
In his own submission, the Catholic Archbishop of Lagos, His Eminence, Alfred Adewale Martins, also commended media practitioners in their efforts at ensuring that good news items get to the public as at when due.
He charged them to continue to dig deeper in their respective fields of assignment to ensure that more reliable pieces of information are disseminated at all times.
‘Media practitioners should ensure that the news items they bring to the people come from own experiences. They should always interact with the people, listen to experiences before dishing out their news. This will make their news authentic.’
Martin’s called on the Government to ensure that Media Practitioners are given the freedom to operate without hitch.
‘The freedom of press which is enshrined in the constitution of Nigeria and it is the right of the media practitioners. So, the government and all those concerned, are expected to respect that right by that virtue. That will serve everybody better, if the press is able to bring to light, whatever that is going on in our society and the entire world.’
Also, speaking, Director of Social Communication, Catholic Archdiocese of Lagos, Rev Fr Anthony Godonu, applauded the huge efforts of media practitioners in serving as watchdogs of the society, but regretted that they are not given the due attention commiserate to their contributions.
He opined that the government should create an endowment fund for those in the media practice, so that they can do better.
‘Those in government recognise the importance of the media. But is unfortunate that they are not paying attention to their welfare. With such attitude, how are they expected to put in their best? In fact, something drastic should be about that.’