22 September 2016, The Tablet

Pope warns journalists not to use their trade as a weapon

The Pope warned against peddling rumour and speculation that can harm others

Journalism can become a form of “terrorism” when it peddles false rumours about people, Pope Francis said today warning reporters not to use their trade as a “weapon of destruction”.

Francis told Italian journalists at a Vatican gathering they had a vital role in writing the “first draft of history” and accepted that this sometimes involves criticism and the “denunciation of evil”. But their task, he stressed, came with a great responsibility.

“An article published today and tomorrow will be replaced by another, but the life of a person unjustly maligned may be destroyed forever,” the Pope said.

Rumours, he explained, are like a form of terrorism as language can “kill” someone - this reiterates remarks he has made in the past, such as when he described gossip as a “terrorist bomb” with words.

Francis said journalism should build up the common good of society but in order to do so journalists must not feed fears about issues such as migrants forced to flee their countries due to war and hunger.

“Of course criticism is legitimate, as well as the denunciation of evil, but it must always be done while respecting ‘the other’”, Francis said. “I hope that more and more journalism is a constructive tool that builds the common good - and an accelerator of reconciliation.”

The Pope gave journalists three things to focus on in order to do their job well: to love the truth, embody professionalism and respect human dignity.

During the speech Francis talked about the overhaul of Vatican communications with the establishment of a new secretariat. This body, he said addressing the journalists, “will be the natural point of reference for your valuable work”.

Today the Pope published the new statutes governing the department which is bringing together all of the different Vatican media outlets and is being led by Mgr Dario Viganò. It also takes in the Holy See Press Office, whose recently appointed director is the former Fox News journalist Greg Burke.

The secretariat was established after a commission, led by former Chairman of the BBC Trust Lord (Chris) Patten, put forward proposals to the Pope on how to improve Vatican communications.

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