Serving the truth

READER'S VIEWS - The Freeman

On Sunday, September 3, I presided the opening Mass for Broadcasters Month 2023 at the University of San Carlos, Downtown Campus. The Mass was attended by hundreds of broadcasters in Cebu. It carried the theme, “KBP Cebu Continually Improving the Delivery of Truth Amidst Innovation.” This clearly reaffirms the ethical stance and commitment of broadcasters to submit to and proclaim the truth. In my homily I emphasized that broadcasters are called to serve the truth. “Our most appropriate attitude in the face of the truth is humility: Humility before the truth and serving the truth. People will tire of sensations and gossip, but they will never tire of the truth.”

When working as a journalist for one of the local newspapers owned by SVD in Indonesia, I found three fundamental reasons why a journalist must serve the truth. First, the significant role of mass media. Mass media, as articulated by Edmund Burke, is considered the fourth estate of democracy after the legislative, judicial, and executive. This expression clearly underscores the central role and position of mass media in building democracy and the common good. Mass media has the power to influence the public space of democracy and shape specific perceptions and knowledge in readers.

The strength of mass media lies in its ability to inject the needle of news into the public’s thought space, making the subject of the news something always true. Furthermore, the less critical nature of the masses makes what the media says an icon of public justification. This significant role made mass media, as stated by German philosopher Jürgen Habermas, a medium for the presentation of the public sphere. Mass media plays a role in presenting and articulating the public sphere. Therefore, Habermas idealizes autonomous mass media that free themselves from the structural realm to mediate and convey the aspirations of the people in a truthful, clear, and straightforward manner.

Secondly, facts are considered sacred. Mass media reporting should only exist within the realm of facts. There’s no room for imagination or fiction. Sanctifying facts means upholding the ethos of truth because society is entitled to accurate, complete, and precise information. The ethos of truth is supported by the subjective integrity of journalists when they construct facts into journalistic expressions. The ethos of truth is important because readership not only needs factual and up-to-date information but also relies on the press for guidance in forming opinions about a fact or reality.

The ethical norms as obligatory guidelines for mass media practitioners are elaborated by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosentiel in “The Elements of Journalism”. In this book, considered “holy scripture” for journalists, they unveil nine crucial elements of journalism; seeking the truth, being loyal to citizens, verifying information rigorously, being independent, monitoring power and giving voice to the voiceless, serving as a public forum, being engaging as well as relevant, maintaining proportionality and comprehensiveness, and listening to one’s conscience. It’s evident that being a journalist means taking a stand; standing for the truth; standing with the victims; standing for the common good.

Thirdly, journalists as prophets. In Christian tradition, a prophet is a messenger of God. They bear the mission and mandate of God, which must be conveyed to the intended recipients. As prophets, journalists are messengers. In the context of taking sides and choosing to be the voice of the voiceless, journalists must see themselves as messengers of the victims and speak about their situations to the authorities.

The important role of mass media as prophets is vividly expressed by Pope John Paul II. He described mass media as the modern-day Areopagus. He stated, “With the help of communication tools, we are not just whispering and proclaiming from above, but rather, we can increase the volume of our voices so that they can be heard simultaneously by countless ears.” His attention to the world of communication was based on his belief in the dialectical power of words; uniting people or dividing them, forging bonds of friendship or sparking enmity.

Fr. Kristo Suhardi, SVD

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