Pope Francis offers press a few in-flight words on journalism ethics (think 'Kellerism')

As seems to be the norm in this papacy, some of the most quotable remarks by Pope Francis came in his now obligatory chat with the press on the flight back to Rome after his visit to Africa. Click here for a full text, care of the Catholic News Agency.

This time, there were several hot topics to choose from, starting with the pope's statement that "Fundamentalism is a sickness that is in all religions," including in Catholicism. (Clearly popes are not required to follow the Associated Press Stylebook.)

Then there were his latest words on global climate change, in which the pope noted: "We are at the limit of a suicide, to say a strong word."

However, Pope Francis also talked about another topic that is sure to be of interest to GetReligion readers and, so far, these words have not been given much attention in the mainstream media. This is interesting, since the work -- and value -- of the mainstream press was the topic the pope was asked to address.

The context was clear: The legal tensions between the Vatican and the media, in the wake of the so-called "Vatileaks" scandal. For background, please note the interesting John L. Allen, Jr., Crux analysis of this case: "Why a criminal trial for leaks could boomerang on the Vatican." Allen notes, concerning a Vatileaks trial:

It could have a chilling effect on its relationship with the media. To state the obvious, acquiring information that institutions don’t want you to have and then making it public is a fairly good working definition of what reporters do for a living, and trying to criminalize that activity isn’t exactly a prescription for détente. ...
The Vatican’s Promoter of Justice insisted the charges aren’t about publishing confidential material, but the way the journalists obtained those materials, including whether untoward pressure was applied. But most observers will likely still see the process as payback for spilling the Vatican’s secrets.

In that context, Pope Francis was asked during his latest in-flight presser:

Phil Pulella, Reuters: In Uganda you spoke off the cuff and you said corruption exists everywhere, and also in the Vatican.
My question is this: what is the importance of the press, the free, secular press in rooting out corruption wherever it is found?

And here is the full text of the pope's response (with a few paragraph breaks added to make it easier to read):

Pope Francis: The free press, secular and also religious, but professional; because the press, secular or religious, must be professional. It’s important that they are truly professional, that the news isn’t manipulated. For me it’s important, because the denunciation of corruption, of injustice, is good work, because there is corruption. And then the one in charge must do something, make a judgment, a tribunal.
The professional press must tell everything, without falling into the three most common sins: misinformation, to tell one half but not the other; calumny, which is not professional -- when there is no professionality, you dirty the other person, with or without truth; and defamation, to take away the good name of the person who right now hasn’t done anything wrong to anyone; maybe it’s something from the past.
These are the three defects that are an attack against the professionality of the press. We need professionality, what’s right: things are like this and this. And on corruption? To see the data well and say it: this, this and this. If there is corruption, they should say it. And if a  journalist, if they are truly professional, gets it wrong, he should excuse himself. Things go very well like this.

So, once again, the pope is convinced that journalists tend to struggle, these days, with three major problems: 

* Covering only one side of a story or debate, which he argues can actually be considered "misinformation."

* "Calumny," which in your typical online dictionary is defined as:

1:  a misrepresentation intended to harm another's reputation
2:  the act of uttering false charges or misrepresentations maliciously calculated to harm another's reputation

* Defamation. 

To be honest, I think it would have been interesting to ask the pope to define the line that he sees between "calumny" and "defamation." If readers have any thoughts on that, please offer them in our comments pages.

However, it goes without saying that -- in the age of Kellerism (click here for background) -- I found it interesting that the first thing the pope mentioned was the tendency for modern journalists to act, when covering many hot-button news topics, as if there is only side of a debate that is worthy of coverage, accurate coverage or coverage that shows respect. This is especially true when covering issues of moral theology linked to sexuality and marriage.

Then again, perhaps Francis simply believes that he has, at some point, been the victim of reporting that actually turns information into misinformation.

Maybe. But then again, who am I to judge?

EDITOR'S NOTE: Please check our comments section for some interesting additional information, care of readers.

IMAGE: A photo of Pope Francis during a 2014 press chat.

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