Pope Francis has issued a rallying cry to the world’s media, calling on journalists to “hit the streets” and go beyond “reportage created in newsrooms”.
In his World Communications Day message the Pope encourages journalism to recover a sense of enchantment in the immediacy of news reporting, quoting the beatified journalist the Blessed Manuel Lozano Garrido: “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.”
Pope Francis has long had a particular relationship with the media, issuing off-the-cuff remarks and wide-ranging interviews with an openness that has drawn both criticism and praise. At the same time the Pope has at times been critical, accusing media of distortion, fabrication and disinformation in the reporting of his pontificate, and in general.
The Pope’s latest message reflects this blend of clear personal affection and rigorous criticism.
This importance of immediacy, of first-hand reporting, is linked by Pope Francis with the incarnation: “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.”
Quoting Shakespeare the Pope attacked the “empty rhetoric” of public life and spoke of the one who “speaks an infinite deal of nothing... His reasons are as two grains of wheat hid in two bushels of chaff: you shall seek all day ere you find them, and when you have them, they are not worth the search.” Fellow Christians were not spared however: “The blistering words of the English playwright also apply to us as Christian communicators.”
As well as speaking in praise of the vocation of journalism, and linking it with the role of discipleship, Pope Francis emphasised the dangers and shortcomings of modern reporting directly: “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.”
These sentiments reflect previous themes of World Communication Day messages, from the 2018 denunciation of “fake news” to last year’s message on “social networks”.
This latest intervention by the Pope was made against a background of violent civil unrest in the US capital, and further tensions between the Vatican and the US Church in the wake of Biden’s election.
But the Pope addresses as much to what the media failed to report as to what it reported badly. He accuses the western media of reporting crises like the pandemic “only through the lens of the richer nations”, asking: “Who would keep us informed about the long wait for treatment in the poverty-stricken villages of Asia, Latin America and Africa?”
Pope Francis goes on to point to failures to report on the poorest within the west: “Even in the world of the more fortunate, the social tragedy of families rapidly slipping into poverty remains largely hidden.”
The Pope concludes his message with a prayer, reproduced below:
Lord, teach us to come out of ourselves,
and to set out in search of truth.
Teach us to go and see,
teach us to listen,
not to cultivate prejudices,
not to draw hasty conclusions.
Teach us to go where no one wants to go,
to take the time to understand,
to pay attention to the essential,
not to be distracted by the superfluous,
to distinguish the deceptive appearance from the truth.
Give us the grace to recognise your homes in the world
and the honesty to tell what we have seen.