Society’s loss of the ability to centre conversations on “a common set of facts” is a theme of recent essays that lament the state of journalism. (Tomasz Mikołajczyk/Pixabay)

Truth, media, and good governance – moving toward and respecting the truth

By Catholic Conscience

On May 12, Pope Francis marked the 58th World Day of Social Communications by saying a world increasingly permeated by artificial intelligence must never lose sight of the “wisdom of the heart.”  The following essay from Catholic Conscience makes the point that communication also depends on truth, a point increasingly being lost in today’s journalism.

A recent set of essays published by The Economist laments the state of Western journalism, emphasizing the importance of the seemingly lost principles of truth, balance, and open discourse in politics.

Speaking with specific reference to the importance of communication pertaining to elections, the authors examine challenges faced by voters and others hoping to pull reliable news reports from a babbling sea of fragmented voices – many of which pander to their audiences in order to keep readership numbers up, sometimes to the point of ignoring facts that aren’t helpful to the positions they promote while focusing on favourable and even fabricated facts.

It requires effort to create and nurture a political culture in which people can argue constructively, with disagreement and compromise, the authors observe, citing US sources as early as Presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. The author of one essay – a former editorial-page editor of the New York Times – argues that the Times has abdicated its pledge to pursue the news “without fear or favour” along with a promise to promote intelligent discussion from all informed points of view. Speaking from personal experience, he charges that the Times’s claims to integrity and true independence have been undermined by ideological journalists and “commercial staff” who do not believe that readers can be trusted with “potentially dangerous ideas or facts.”

The loss by society of the ability to centre conversations on “a common set of facts” is a primary theme of the essays.

Church Teaching

Truth is fundamental to any just form of governance. Without it, no democracy can survive. Even when – as we always should – we seek consensus, that consensus must be founded on truth.

Men and women have the specific duty to move always towards the truth, to respect it and bear responsible witness to it. Living in the truth has special significance in social relationships. In fact, when the coexistence of human beings within a community is founded on truth, it is ordered and fruitful, and it corresponds to their dignity as persons …  Modern times call for an intensive educational effort and a corresponding commitment on the part of all so that the quest for truth cannot be ascribed to the sum of different opinions, nor to one or another of these opinions. Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 198

In other words, the Church, too acknowledges the need for a common set of facts.

Points to Ponder

  • How can we, as Catholics, discharge our duty “to move always toward the truth, to respect it and bear responsible witness to it?”

It seems clear that a first step involves identifying responsible news sources: individuals and organizations who undertake to report truthfully, in a balanced way, in accordance with stated values, and who are willing to faithfully present all viewpoints within the contours of those values.

An important point in identifying such news sources is to seek out the values they purport to hold, and to confirm that their reporting is consistent with them. If these values are sufficiently consistent with the values held by other news sources, and by society itself, then the common moral base these values represent will serve as a reliable and convenient source for common sets of facts.

It is also important to support well-meaning, balanced news sources. If sustainable support is not available, it can be very difficult to maintain professional, consistent coverage of topics citizens out to care and be informed about. Unfortunately, it can be easier to fall back on free rants and exhortations that merely reinforce what we already believe, or what we want to believe, than to consider alternative and often challenging points of view.

With journalism – indeed, all social discourse – in this state, we cannot afford to be complacent.

  • How is it possible to identify sources of news reliably reported in accordance with values consistent with Catholic values?

This can be difficult. First, one must be familiar with Catholic social values. But this is the easy part.

Many news sources publish or at least make reference to the values they seek to uphold on “About” pages of online resources, and in columns printed in longer documents. It may be safest to try such sources first, checking the consistency between Catholic teaching and reported value statements, and making an effort to keep the publishers honest through commentary or other forms of feedback.

Since it can be difficult to find sources of the broad spectrum of news coverage that can be helpful to living a faithful live of civic participation, it may be necessary to start with both the best secular news sources we can identify and the broadest faithful Catholic coverage we can find, and encourage them to grow towards one another.

Examples of Catholic news sources include the following. Unfortunately, in many cases they tend to focus on internal church news – bake sales, the bishop’s latest homily, etc. – and ignore things like the stock markets, deforestation, housing proposals, and the like. Perhaps we can engage with these news sources and gently encourage them to broaden their perspectives without losing their faith-based values.


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