It is not often that members of the clergy use their position to discuss journalistic ethics. Most of the complaints from clergy that I have witnessed firsthand deal with the way a particular story was handled or how their church or parish was portrayed in the local newspaper. Ministers and priests often reflect the theme we espouse here at GetReligion, that the media just does not get it when it comes to religion. With that in mind, the statements by Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Vatican's press office, that "those working in the media have a moral duty to disseminate the truth," is somewhat thoughtful and out of the ordinary. The fact that the statement is not coming in response to a specific story or the way an issue was covered is unexpected.
I read the following on Zenit.org:
Journalists Have Duty to Serve Truth
VATICAN CITY, JAN. 27, 2008 (Zenit.org). -- Those working in the media have a moral duty to disseminate the truth, according to a Vatican spokesman.
My first thought was: So do the priests who abuse children, and the bishops who protect them.
Journalists burning out on the God beat are not an unheard of incident. In fact, it happened at least twice last year. One cites his coverage of the Catholic Church's sex abuse scandal.
There is more to this story from the Vatican than just an attempt to poke at journalists. Lombardi is giving an analysis of Benedict XVI's talk for World Communications Day which is on May 4. Here is what the theme is supposed to be:
We have to ask ourselves seriously, said Father Lombardi, "if [the media] are at the service of the good of persons and the common good of societies."
"Often, in fact, we have good reason to doubt this or to be bitterly disappointed," he observed. Too many times "the media seem to claim not simply to represent reality, but to determine it, owing to the power and the power of suggestion that they possess."
The Vatican spokesman continued, citing Benedict XVI's message: "This happens when the media are not used for 'the proper purpose of disseminating information, but to create events,' or at least to amplify their importance, to manipulate their correct interpretation, or impose particular interpretation for ideological purposes, economic and political interests or interests of any other sort.
The question asked by Lombardi is one that is commonly asked in journalism school ethics classes. It may be news to Lombardi that his answer may not be the one given in those classes. Everyone would not readily accept the concept that the media is at the "service" for the good of people and society. I am of the belief that journalists are at the service of the facts and what they observe. The good of society is often not clear when the news is being reported.
I know journalists are not required to attend journalism school and some people don't believe that a degree is even that helpful, but thinking through these types of important issues could do a lot to improve the media's coverage of events and issues. Unfortunately, the news outlet for these comments did not make an effort to analyze them. Perhaps as the date for the Pope's speech approaches, others will do some critical thinking on what he is expected to say.