TWO BISHOPS from two different corners of the globe have offered their reactions to Pope Benedict XVI’s 2008 World Communication Day, which was formally released last May 4, Feast of the Ascension or the Sunday before Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit dawned on the apostles in order to strengthen and inspire them to spread the Gospel across the ends of the earth, perhaps the only historic guidepost on the press and the mass media.

The 42nd World Communications Day, “The Media: At the Crossroads between Self-Promotion and Service. Searching for the Truth in order to Share it with Others,” is characteristic of most Church documents on the media: it is both a pat on the back and a rap on the knuckle.

The pat on the back: Media contribute “to the diffusion of news, to knowledge of facts and dissemination of information,” and play a decisive role in the spread of “literacy and socialization, as well as the development of democracy and dialogue among peoples.” The Pope adds: “There is no area of human experience, especially given the vast phenomenon of globalization, in which the media have not become an integral part of interpersonal relations and of social, economic, political and religious development.

The rap on the knuckle: The media “risk being transformed into systems aimed at subjecting humanity to agendas dictated by the dominant interests of the day” and are “used for ideological purposes or for the aggressive advertising of consumer products.” Because of the profit-motive, the media may risk becoming “spokesman for economic materialism and ethical relativism.” At the same time the Pope warns that that the mass media “can tend to legitimize or impose distorted models of personal, family or social life.” Worse, “Today communication seems increasingly to claim not simply to represent reality, but to determine it, owing to the power and the force of suggestion it possesses.”

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One reaction–from Bishop Philip Tartaglia, president of the National Communications Commission of the Bishops Conference of Scotland—seems to agree more with the latter view. Tartaglia said the media are “pervasive, persuasive, and all too often invasive.” Meanwhile, on the other side of the globe, Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales of Manila has chosen to be a bit positive and a little balanced: “Public opinion exercises an enormous influence today over the lives of people . . . Those who help shape public opinion carry with them the responsibility to convey the truth, knowing the principles of the moral order and applying them to the practice of their given profession as media practitioners. (Inter Mirifica). Thus, everyone immediately sees the responsibility of those who report the news, form judgment and suggest interpretations on what has happened, on what and how the information was reported to have happened.”

Rosales made the remarks at Villa San Miguel in a special media gathering organized by the Cardinal’s media office, headed by former Varsitarian editor Corazon Yamsuan, exactly to welcome the Pope’s World Communication Day Message.But both prelates agreed with the Pope on a new “info-ethics” to govern the media.

According to the Vatican, the Holy Father called on people to participate in “reflecting on the role played by the media and its increasing risk of being self-absorbed and no longer instruments at the service of truth.”

The Pope cites the overwhelming status acquired by the mass media of late. The new media regime, according to the Pope, has “raised new and hitherto unimaginable questions and problems by transforming itself into systems aimed at subjecting humanity to agendas dictated by the dominant interests of the day.”

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Precisely because the Church deals with global realities that produce profound effects on all dimensions of human life, the Pope stresses the need for “info-ethics,” since “not everything that is technically possible is also ethically permissible.” Hence, the impact of the communications media on modern life requires choices and solutions that must check their excesses and shortcomings.

Therefore, there is a need to return sanity in the mass media. People in the various fields of media need to know their boundaries, their goals, and their objectives. As prime consumers of their services, readers, listeners, and patrons of the media must therefore be critically aware. The search for truth is complex and participatory. The mass media cannot do it alone; the audience and consumers must also contribute to the search for truth.

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