Joseph Kelly

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Pope tells journalists to ‘stick to the facts’

No one really knows what the future of the news media will be, but it will have no future if reporters and the public cannot distinguish between facts and fiction, Pope Francis said.

Honouring a request from Spanish news agency EFE to contribute to its collection of views about the future of the media, Pope Francis responded publicly during his flight from Madagascar to Rome on 10 September.

When he was a boy, he said, his family did not have a television; instead they listened to the radio and read newspapers. Sometimes, depending on the government in power, they were “clandestine newspapers,” distributed under cover of night.

“Compared to today’s news industry, it all seems very precarious,” he said. Yet today’s media may look just as precarious when people in the future look back.

“What remains, however,” he said, is the ability and responsibility of the news media “to inform the audience of an event and to distinguish these facts from narrative,” fiction or opinion.

“It is extremely easy to move from the facts to narrative,” he said, “and this damages the news industry. It’s important to stick to the facts.”

Pope Francis said the Catholic Church and its media are not exempt from that danger. “Within the Church, when there is a fact, it goes around the corner, and then it gets adorned, it gets embellished. Everyone adds their own contribution, and not even in bad faith,” he said.

“The mission of the journalist is to always stick to the facts: ‘The facts are these. My interpretation is this. I was told this.’ It distinguishes you from the storyteller,” he said.

The pope also said journalists must remain human, humane and “constructive.”

“The news industry cannot, for example, be used as an instrument of war, as this is inhumane, it destroys,” he said.

“Think back to the propaganda of the dictatorships of the past century. There were dictatorships that communicated well. They were well structured, they communicated well. They encouraged war, destruction; they were not humane.”

Picture: Pope Francis answers a question from Jason Horowitz of The New York Times aboard his flight from Antananarivo, Madagascar, to Rome on 10 September 2019. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) 

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