for the 2021 World Communications Day
On 23 January 2021, the Vigil of the Memorial of Saint Francis de Sales, the patron Saint of Journalists, Pope Francis issued a message for the 55th World Communications Day, centred on Jesus Christ’s invitation to “Come and See” (Jn.1,46). It is a sure way of initiating and communicating the Christian faith.
It has to involve a first-hand knowledge and encounter founded on personal experience instead of mere tittle-tattle. “It is no longer because of your words that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves”. (Jn. 4,42) That firsthand encounter with the Good news engenders a positive change because the content of what is heard is not smeared with hidden fakeness.
It is based on that ,that I wish to reflect for this year’s World Communications Day on “communicating to positively educate.” We must remember that it is what is communicated that one hears; and the content of what is heard engenders learning.
Therefore, what is to be communicated must be enriching, and equally divested of any morally corrosive tendency in order to enhance positive education. To that effect, those who work in the field of social communications must be extra cautious, regarding the information they disseminate to the general public.
John Paul II extols the unifying force of the means of social communication when he teaches that, “the first Areopagus of the modern age is the world of communications which is unifying humanity and turning it into what is known as a `global village’. The means of social communication have become so important as to be for many the chief means of information and education, of guidance and inspiration in their behavior as individuals, families and within society at large.” (Redemptoris Missio n.37)
In these words, he stressed on the fact that means of social communication are the chief means of information and education. By dint of that fact, I strongly enjoin the operators of these means of social communication to be properly informed and educated so as not to misinform or miseducate their audience; and consequently engender undesirable effects on private and public opinion.
The digital technologies with particular reference to the social media have made communication easily widespread. The range of operators and users has crisscrossed every age bracket. There is however no gainsaying the fact that some of these new technologies meet us surprisingly unschooled in their usage and uncritical in the analysis of the information that we are unstoppably bombarded with.
Before we know it, we are not only already fiddling with them in a curious attempt to unveil their hidden wonders, but we are also jostled into the condition of learn-as-you-use. Amidst such wondrous curiosity we must bring to bear the fact that education knowingly or unknowingly remains the ultimate goal of every communication. Sequel to that, adequate care must be taken not to toy with its content at every level.
Furtherance on, the modern means of social communication “are not only instruments of communication, but also a world to be evangelized. In terms of the message they transmit, it is necessary to ensure that they propagate the good, the true and the beautiful.” (JOHN PAUL II, Ecclesia in Africa, n.124)
The users – journalists, broadcasters, publishers of software etc., and even domestic users have to be properly tutored not only in the technicalities but also the moral demands of their usage and “the circumstances in which the content is communicated – the purpose, that is to say, the people, the place, the time, etc.” (VATICAN II, Inter Mirifica n.4).
FROM PANDEMIC TO INFODEMIC
Prior to the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was already a near uncontrollable spread of fake news through the social media. Individuals generate false news in the privacy of their rooms and circulate them through the social media. With the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic came a heightened form of infodemic. This neologism in the communication circle bespeaks of a contagious disease in communication.
The World Health Organization described it as “too much information including false or misleading information in digital and physical environments during a disease outbreak. It causes confusion and risk-taking behaviors that can harm health.” Such spread of confused mixture of accurate and inaccurate information about something makes it a herculean task deciphering the truth in the bushel of falsehood.
Consequently, everybody needs some form of continuing personal education which will help in forming standards of good taste and truthful moral judgment, and ipso facto culminate in the formation of a balanced conscience. (Cf. PONTIFICAL COUNCIL FOR SOCIALCOMMUNICATIONS, Ethics in Communication n.25)
When conscience is rightly formed, it influences decision, human conduct and mode of communication.
In the same vein, we call to mind the words of Benedict XVI in which he exposed the two sides of the same coin thus: “Everyone knows that the new information technologies are capable of being powerful instruments for unity and peace, but also for destruction and division.
From a moral standpoint they can offer either a service or a disservice, propagate truth as well as falsehood, propose what is base as well as what is beautiful. The flood of news or non-news, to say nothing of images, can be informative but also powerfully manipulative.
Information can readily become disinformation, and formation deformation. The media can be a force for authentic humanization, but just as easily prove dehumanizing.” (Africae Munus n.143)
All in all, those who make use of the media of communications especially the young people must be properly guided and armed with instrument of critical thinking in order to be able to “deepen their understanding of what they see, hear and read.” (VATICAN II, Inter Mirifica n.10). Since not everything that one sees, hears or reads could be edifying, it is only when one is equipped with the instrument of right reasoning that communication will then positively educate.
Most Rev. Paulinus C. Ezeokafor