By Devin Watkins
As misinformation continues to swirl regarding the Covid-19 pandemic, Pope Francis is calling on journalists, especially Catholic media professionals, to verify the facts they report while adopting a respectful attitude toward those who produce and consume fake news.
Meeting with members of the International Catholic Media Consortium on Friday, the Pope reflected on the theme of communications and truth.
The consortium—run up by Aleteia and I Media, two news websites, and Verificat, a fact-checking agency—set up the “Catholic FactChecking” website in early 2021.
Unmasking fake news
Pope Francis lauded the organization’s goal of seeking to unmask “fake news and partial or misleading information” about Covid-19 vaccines and ethical questions related to them.
The group includes a scientific committee that draws upon the work of experts in epidemiology, theology, and bioethics.
The Pope noted that people are increasingly influenced by mass media and that reporters must therefore employ a rigorous method.
Pope Francis then reflected on the Catholic consortium’s stated goal of being “together for truth”.
Taking the first word of the slogan—“together”—he said Christian communicators who network and share knowledge are already offering “an initial form of witness.”
He lamented the “infodemic” plaguing the world alongside the pandemic, calling it “a distortion of reality based on fear, which in our global society leads to an explosion of commentary on falsified if not invented news.”
For, not against
Turning to the second word—“for”—the Pope recalled that Christians are always “against injustice and lies, but always for persons.”
He urged members of the Catholic consortium to never overlook the “fundamental distinction between information and people”, even as they combat disinformation.
This approach calls for Christian reporters to be “evangelical in style, a builder of bridges, a promoter of peace, also and above all, in search for truth.”
Pope Francis also warned against a conflictual demeanor and “fideism” to science which is always in the process of “advancing towards the solution of problems.”
He therefore urged Christian journalists to try to accompany people by providing answers in “a serene and reasonable way”.
Truth, toward communion
Pope Francis then took up the final word—“truth”—to encourage the group’s goal of fact-checking, while warning against giving in to vested interests or commercial gains.
The Pope concluded his speech to the Catholic Media Consortium by recalling the pandemic’s victims and offering his encouragement for their work.
“To work in service to truth,” he said, “means to seek the things that foster communion and promote the good of all, not those that isolate, divide and oppose.”