31 January 2022, The Tablet

Pope praises journalists fighting fake news about Covid

An excess of information “leads to an explosion of commentary on falsified if not invented news”, Pope Francis said.

Pope praises journalists fighting fake news about Covid

Pope Francis greets Vincent Montagne of the French publishing group, Média-Participations, during a meeting of the International Catholic Media Consortium on Covid vaccines.
CNS photo/Vatican Media

The Pope warned of the dangers of an “infodemic” as he called for respect for people while combatting fake news.

In an address to Catholic journalists. Pope Francis said that “the fundamental distinction between information and people must never be overlooked” and that communicators must adopt an evangelical style to help readers and listeners to understand “the sheer volume of allegedly ‘scientific’ information” about the pandemic.

Speaking to a meeting of the International Consortium of Catholic Media on “Catholic Fact-Checking”, Pope Francis referred to St Paul VI’s 1972 Message for World Communications Day which said that journalists must do “much more than observing and reporting what is immediately evident” but must evaluate their sources and provide commentary and judgement.

Francis said that this was still more true in the digital age where an excess of information “leads to an explosion of commentary on falsified if not invented news”. He praised the work of journalists combatting misinformation about Covid-19, and the Consortium for being “together for truth” (a phrase from the third letter of St John).

The consortium was established to combat fake news about Covid-19 vaccines. It is headed by Aleteia, an international Catholic news network, and Verificat, a Catalonian fact-checking agency, along with scientific and journalistic collaborators, and runs the Catholic Factchecking website which addresses the concerns raised about vaccines in Catholic communities, particularly on social media. “Whereas posing ethical questions on the use of vaccines is surely legitimate, they must be addressed clearly, without adding further misinformation,” the website says.

Pope Francis has a long record of condemning the circulation of misinformation, calling it “a very serious sin” and comparing it to the serpent in the Garden of Eden in his 2018 World Communications Day address. The pontiff himself is frequently a subject of fake news stories: in September last year Catholic Factchecking published a rebuttal of a widely circulated story that Francis was discouraging Africans from taking Covid vaccines.

He emphasised the role of journalists in communicating with the disaffected or misinformed. “Reality is always more complex than we think and we must respect the doubts, the concerns and the questions that people raise, seeking to accompany them without ever dismissing them.” Contrasting good communication with the work of social media companies whom he has criticised in the past, Francis called it “an antidote to algorithms projected to maximise commercial profit”. 

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