The Pope has said much recently about the irresponsibility and corruption of the Western Media and today gave one of his strongest denunciations of their shameful practices. Francis brought up the issue in an exclusive interview with the Belgian news service, Tertio.
"The media has a very great responsibility," Francis reminded the reporters, "Given the mass-media's reach, they have the ability to form opinions. Media are the builders of a society and, as such, are meant to foster a fraternal exchange of ideas; to educate and to make one think. Media is not inherently evil, but we must remember that we are all sinners and have our temptations."
Then, following Christ's example in defending the woman accused of adultery, the Pope challenged the Media Pharisees to determine who was worthy to cast the first stone:
"First of all, media can be tempted to slander or defile innocent people, especially in politics." the Pope noted, "Every person has a right to a good name; and we must especially be on guard against the temptation to defame. To bring to light a problem from someone's distant past and hold them responsible even if they have repented and rectified the situation is defamatory to that person. It is serious, it is damaging, and nullifies that person. This is not right; it is a sin and does harm."
His Holiness wasn't finished with the now-humbled Belgian Press. Unlike Christ, he didn't allow the reporters to put down their stones and quietly slink away to another topic. Francis pointed out that spreading disinformation was lying, and as bad as slander:
"Telling one part of the truth, but omitting part of it is to misinform. Because you, the media, have the whole truth but cheat the public of the other half. The public is thus robbed of the ability to make a moral judgment on the complete truth. Misinforming people is probably the greatest harm that the media can do. It is designed to channel opinion in one direction only."
Francis went on to give his opinion of the Postmodern Media's quality. He stated this as diplomatically as possible, befitting His Office, but many of us certainly share the Pope's sentiments:
"Media figures must learn to be very clean, very clean and very transparent. Their current obsession with scandal resembles the sickness of Coprophilia" (a neurotic condition characterized by an abnormal obsession with feces) "If the media can avoid these temptations, they can be builders of opinion, they can edify, and do an immense, an immense amount of good."
This is not the first occasion in which Pope Francis has called out collective Media malpractice. In September, the Pope scolded journalists while addressing an international media forum in Rome. Later that same month, he called on social media users to reflect on their Christian attitudes before spreading stories about others.
Naturally, the US Corporate Media discreetly ignored the Pope's words; lest the public start drawing some conclusions from them. But Francis touched upon another issue, which should be addressed further. In the past, there were media conglomerates too; though competitive and not in collusion as they are today. What news media professionals of the past understood was that the bottom-line for their success was not exclusively economic, but rested on their credibility. The minute the public lost confidence in a media outlet, that media organization was finished. True, advertisers had leverage over media content---though not nearly to the degree they have today---but that system worked both ways. An advertiser wanted his product associated with a news source that people trusted; and wanted nothing to do with sources that no one took seriously. It should be noted for example that in the past, advertisers paid top dollar for a spot on a major source but avoided tabloids like the plague---even though tabloids often had high profit-margins and wide readership.
The Pope is right that the Media can become a force for good again; but it must shake off the tendency to chase dollars by appealing to society's lowest common denominators and focus on the public interest again. Unfortunately, the US media is going the opposite way; even calling for---or at least not opposing---governmental restrictions on the free press. This should be a red flag to indicate that our press is already to some degree unfree. Media reform is going to have to come from within and through public demand, censorship will worsen the situation.