The Catholic bishop of Awka Diocese, His Lordship, Most Rev. Paulinus Ezeokafor, has joined Pope Francis in his call against peddling fake news. This is even as he charged journalists to strive towards truth while disseminating information.
Bishop Ezeokafor gave the charge at St. Patrick's Catholic Cathedral Awka, during a holy mass to mark this year's World Communications Day.
The day which was established by Pope Paul V1 in 1967, is an annual celebration that encourages Christians to reflect on the opportunities the modern means of Social Communication afford to the Church to preach the gospel of truth.
Bishop Ezeokafor who was represented by the former Bishop of Ahiara Diocese, Most Rev. Peter Okpalaeke, noted that only the truth could set Nigeria free from bad leadership, even as he charged journalists to practice without attaching self interest for a better society.
Bishop Ezeokafor whose homily was centred on the message of Pope Francis, “The Truth Will Set You Free, Fake News and Journalism for Peace”,
called on journalists to remain committed to telling the truth to society at all times.
The Local Ordinary, taking a cue from the pope, spoke on the theme: “They Ordered Them Not to Speak in the Name of Jesus, (Acts 5:40): Overcoming the Challenges to Our Communicating the Truth''.
The bishop said since Christ was the truth, communicating the truth meant greater closeness to Christ, while distorting it meant the faithful distancing themselves from Him.
'To be messengers of truth, we must be able to face many obstacles to truth in our world of today, starting from those within us, the self, and the fear of external powers, inducements, and entanglements,' he said.
He challenged media practitioners to confront and defeat the power of selfishness, noting that they could do this only if they became truly Christians by opening themselves up to the power of the Holy Spirit, which, he said, was sent by Jesus. He added that his resurrection gave mankind power over sin and falsehood.
The prelate who also described fake news as false information based on
non-existent or distorted data meant to deceive and manipulate readers, urged journalists to emulate Christ.
Analyzing Pope Francis' message, the Awka Diocesan Director of Social Communications, and the Director of Fides, Rev. Fr. Dr. Martin Chuks Anusi, said World Communications Day (WCD) was celebrated every year on the Sunday before the Pentecost Sunday. According to him, it began in 1967, following the desire of the Second Vatican Council to see how the achievements of the communication media could best be used to promote gospel values.
The communication expert noted that every year the Church chose a theme for the celebration, adding that with the theme the Church invited and encouraged all to reflect on the opportunities and challenges communications media offered in the light of the gospel message and human development.
'Since its first celebration on Sunday, May 7, 1967, Pope Paul the Sixth and his successors have continued to invite and encourage us to reflect on this essential and evolving culture of our time in order to help make the best use of it and minimize its wrong use.
'This year's celebration holds today. The theme chosen by the Holy Father, Pope Francis, for this year is, “The Truth Will Set You Free, (John Chapter 8, verse 32) Fake News and Journalism for Peace''.
'The Pope, in his message, reminds us that communicating is an essential part of God's plan for us, God's gift, through which we can express and experience all that is true, good, and beautiful about
our lives, history, memory, and experiences. Communications, according to him, must be at the service of truth.
'When this gift yields to human selfishness, the Pope warns, it could become instrument of deception, disinformation or false information, with a view to distort, deceive, and manipulate others, especially in the era of the fast-changing digital and technological systems,' he said.
According to Pope Francis, the spread of fake news was aided by the manipulative use of the social media, where the challenge of unmasking and eliminating fake news was partly difficult because “people interact in homogeneous digital environments, impervious to differing perspectives and opinions''.
This, he said, made it difficult to confront the source of the information or to challenge it, and risked turning people into unwilling accomplices in spreading biased and baseless ideas, noting that countering falsehood was a vocation for everybody.
Pope Francis lauded what he called the wonderful efforts being made to create programmes of media education, to help people interpret and assess media information.
He also praised institutional and legal initiatives, as well as efforts by tech and media companies, in coming up with new criteria for verifying the personal identities concealed behind millions of digital profiles.
An antidote to the virus of
falsehood, he said, was purification by the truth that set people free.
Commenting on the day, the Commissioner for Information and Public Enlightenment, Mr. C- Don Adinuba, said the people in leadership positions and indeed all Nigerians, should have communication strategy based on cooperation, solidarity, national unity, integration and national prosperity.
Mr. Adinuba also charged the people to learn, by comparison, from other developing parts of the world who were doing better than Nigeria today.
Also speaking, the state chairman of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, Comrade Emma Ifesinachi, enjoined journalists to uphold professionalism and apply objectivity in reporting, as well as remaining ethical, while disseminating information.
In their separate speeches, the Director News and Current Affairs Department of the ABS ,Mr Gab Okpalaeze; Managing Director and Editor-in- Chief of National Light Newspapers, Sir Chuka Nnabuife; Editor-in- chief of Fides Newspapers, Hon. Jude Atupulazi; Comrade Don Onyenji; Sculptor Otikpa; the Comptroller of Prisons Anambra State Command, Barr. Nwakaeze Emmanuel (KSM) and his Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) counterpart, Mr. Sunday Ajayi, encouraged media Practitioners to speak and communicate truth and not to deceive the audience by disseminating false information.