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Updated: Jun 27, 2019

In the Archdiocese of Bombay, we celebrate the Sunday prior to Christ the King as Communications Day. However, the Universal Church celebrates (World) Communications Day on Ascension Sunday, which is the Sunday before Pentecost. Whatever the date, the essential purpose of a Communications Day is to reflect and celebrate the achievement of media and to focus on how ‘communication’ can best be used to promote Gospel values. There have been 52 World Communications Days and on each occasion, the Pope releases a message that focuses on something relevant and important in the world of communication, or on an area of concern that the Pope feels the media world needs to take cognizance of.

This year, Pope Francis has released a message entitled: “The Truth will set you free. Fake news and journalism for peace.” We are living in a day and age where there is tremendous concern about fake news and many articles have focused exclusively on this issue. As a result, the heart of the message of the Pope, which contains some important insights, has kind of got side-tracked. To quote: “The best antidotes to falsehoods are not strategies, but people: people who are not greedy but ready to listen, people who make the effort to engage in sincere dialogue so that the truth can emerge; people who are attracted by goodness and take responsibility for how they use language.”

This is Journalism for Peace often referred to as ‘Peace Journalism’.

So, what is Peace Journalism? Over 60 years ago, an eminent peace scholar, Johan Galtung, coined the phrase ‘peace journalism’ and offered it to journalists as a model and source of practical options when reporting in conflict environments.

Johan Galtung defined ‘peace journalism’ as “when editors and reporters make choices – about what to report, and how to report it – that create opportunities for society at large to consider and to value non-violent responses to conflict.”

It is a choice that journalists and editors – and everyone in media and communications - have to make: either to promote and encourage writings that further the cancer of division and isolation, to create a world of ‘them versus us’ and  incite people in that conflict environment thereby causing more death and destruction, or to write about what binds us, stories of courage and healing, stories of forgiveness and grace.

In an interview with Vatican News, Galtung elaborated on the concept of “peace journalism”.  He said that there is a distinction between "positive" peace and "negative" peace. “Peace journalism is split into two: ‘negative’ peace journalism, which tries to find solutions to conflicts in order to reduce violence; and ‘positive’ peace journalism, which wants to explore the possibility of more positive cooperation. In other words, the first focuses on the negative aspect and the second on the positive aspect.”

We live in a day and age where people thrive on controversy. ‘If it bleeds it leads’ is an axiom of communication often used in the media industry, Tabloids focus on gossip, news is often negative and the media industry seems to make a killing (pun intended) at the expense of people’s pain, suffering and misery. It is in this context that Pope Francis calls on journalists to exercise the choice for peace journalism.

And this is what Peace Journalism does. It -

  • Explores the backgrounds and contexts of conflict formation, presenting causes and options on every side (not just ‘both sides’);

  • Gives voice to the views of all rival parties, from all levels;

  • Offers creative ideas for conflict resolution, development, peace-making and peacekeeping;

  • Exposes lies, cover-up attempts and culprits on all sides, and reveals excesses committed by, and suffering inflicted on, peoples of all parties;

  • Pays attention to peace stories and post-war developments.”

In his message to journalists, Pope Francis also says:  ‘By [journalism of peace], I do not mean the saccharine kind of journalism that refuses to acknowledge the existence of serious problems or smacks of sentimentalism…on the contrary, I mean a journalism that is truthful and opposed to falsehoods, rhetorical slogans, and sensational headlines."

Only the truth can set us free and we, who live in this digital age, must foster communication that is at the service of all, especially those who have no voice. Such communication is committed to pointing out alternatives to the escalation of indifference, isolation and segregation.

May we, as Catholic communicators,  always engage in a Journalism for Peace.

Fr Nigel Barrett


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