The Church's approach to the means of social communication is fundamentally positive, encouraging. She does not simply stand in judgment and condemn; rather, she considers these instruments to be not only products of human genius but also great gifts of God and true signs of the times cf. These purposes underlie the present document. We say again: The media do nothing by themselves; they are instruments, tools, used as people choose to use them.
In reflecting upon the means of social communication, we must face honestly the "most essential" question raised by technological progress: whether, as a result of it, the human person "is becoming truly better, that is to say more mature spiritually, more aware of the dignity of his humanity, more responsible, more open to others, especially the neediest and the weakest, and readier to give and to aid all" Pope John Paul II, Redemptor Hominis , We take it for granted that the vast majority of people involved in social communication in any capacity are conscientious individuals who want to do the right thing.
Public officials, policy-makers, and corporate executives desire to respect and promote the public interest as they understand it. Readers and listeners and viewers want to use their time well for personal growth and development so that they can lead happier, more productive lives. Parents are anxious that what enters their homes through media be in their children's interests.
Most professional communicators desire to use their talents to serve the human family, and are troubled by the growing economic and ideological pressures to lower ethical standards present in many sectors of the media. The contents of the countless choices made by all these people concerning the media are different from group to group and individual to individual, but the choices all have ethical weight and are subject to ethical evaluation.
To choose rightly, those choosing need to "know the principles of the moral order and apply them faithfully" Inter Mirifica , 4. She brings a long tradition of moral wisdom, rooted in divine revelation and human reflection cf.
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More than simply passing judgment, this tradition offers itself in service to the media. For example, "the Church's culture of wisdom can save the media culture of information from becoming a meaningless accumulation of facts" Pope John Paul II, Message for the 33rd World Communications Day, The Church also brings something else to the conversation. Her special contribution to human affairs, including the world of social communication, is "precisely her vision of the dignity of the person revealed in all its fullness in the mystery of the Incarnate Word" Centesimus Annus , 47 In the words of the Second Vatican Council, "Christ the Lord, Christ the new Adam, in the very revelation of the mystery of the Father and of his love, fully reveals man to himself and brings to light his most high calling" Gaudium et Spes , Media do this by encouraging men and women to be conscious of their dignity, enter into the thoughts and feelings of others, cultivate a sense of mutual responsibility, and grow in personal freedom, in respect for others' freedom, and in the capacity for dialogue.
Social communication has immense power to promote human happiness and fulfillment. Without pretending to do more than give an overview, we note here, as we have done elsewhere cf. Pontifical Council for Social Communications, Ethics in Advertising , , some economic, political, cultural, educational, and religious benefits. The market is not a norm of morality or a source of moral value, and market economics can be abused; but the market can serve the person cf.
Centesimus Annus , 34 , and media play an indispensable role in a market economy. Social communication supports business and commerce, helps spur economic growth, employment, and prosperity, encourages improvements in the quality of existing goods and services and the development of new ones, fosters responsible competition that serves the public interest, and enables people to make informed choices by telling them about the availability and features of products. In short, today's complex national and international economic systems could not function without the media.
Remove them, and crucial economic structures would collapse, with great harm to countless people and to society. Social communication benefits society by facilitating informed citizen participation in the political process. The media draw people together for the pursuit of shared purposes and goals, thus helping to form and sustain authentic political communities.
Media are indispensable in today's democratic societies.
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They supply information about issues and events, office holders and candidates for office. They enable leaders to communicate quickly and directly with the public about urgent matters. They are important instruments of accountability, turning the spotlight on incompetence, corruption, and abuses of trust, while also calling attention to instances of competence, public-spiritedness, and devotion to duty. The means of social communication offer people access to literature, drama, music, and art otherwise unavailable to them, and so promote human development in respect to knowledge and wisdom and beauty.
We speak not only of presentations of classic works and the fruits of scholarship, but also of wholesome popular entertainment and useful information that draw families together, help people solve everyday problems, raise the spirits of the sick, shut-ins, and the elderly, and relieve the tedium of life. Media also make it possible for ethnic groups to cherish and celebrate their cultural traditions, share them with others, and transmit them to new generations.
In particular, they introduce children and young people to their cultural heritage. Communicators, like artists, serve the common good by preserving and enriching the cultural heritage of nations and peoples cf. The media are important tools of education in many contexts, from school to workplace, and at many stages in life. Media are standard instructional tools in many classrooms. And beyond the classroom walls, the instruments of communication, including the Internet, conquer barriers of distance and isolation, bringing learning opportunities to villagers in remote areas, cloistered religious, the home-bound, prisoners, and many others.
Many people's religious lives are greatly enriched through the media. They carry news and information about religious events, ideas, and personalities; they serve as vehicles for evangelization and catechesis. Day in and day out, they provide inspiration, encouragement, and opportunities for worship to persons confined to their homes or to institutions.
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Sometimes, too, media contribute to people's spiritual enrichment in extraordinary ways. For example, huge audiences around the world view and, in a sense, participate in important events in the life of the Church regularly telecast via satellite from Rome. And, over the years, media have brought the words and images of the Holy Father's pastoral visits to countless millions.
And indeed all communication ought to be open to community among persons. To do this, it is Communication that serves genuine community is "more than the expression of ideas and the indication of emotion. At its most profound level, it is the giving of self in love" Communio et Progressio , Communication like this seeks the well being and fulfillment of community members in respect to the common good of all.
But consultation and dialogue are needed to discern this common good. Therefore it is imperative for the parties to social communication to engage in such dialogue and submit themselves to the truth about what is good. This is how the media can meet their obligation to "witness to the truth about life, about human dignity, about the true meaning of our freedom and mutual interdependence" Pope John Paul II, Message for the 33rd World Communications Day, The media also can be used to block community and injure the integral good of persons: by alienating people or marginalizing and isolating them; drawing them into perverse communities organized around false, destructive values; fostering hostility and conflict, demonizing others and creating a mentality of "us" against "them"; presenting what is base and degrading in a glamorous light, while ignoring or belittling what uplifts and ennobles; spreading misinformation and disinformation, fostering trivialization and banality.
Often, too, social communication overlooks what is genuinely new and important, including the good news of the Gospel, and concentrates on the fashionable or faddish.
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The media sometimes are used to build and sustain economic systems that serve acquisitiveness and greed. Neoliberalism is a case in point: "Based on a purely economic conception of man", it "considers profit and the law of the market as its only parameters, to the detriment of the dignity of and the respect due to individuals and peoples" Pope John Paul II, Ecclesia in America , In such circumstances, means of communication that ought to benefit all are exploited for the advantage of the few.
The process of globalization "can create unusual opportunities for greater prosperity" Centesimus Annus , 58 ; but side by side with it, and even as part of it, some nations and peoples suffer exploitation and marginalization, falling further and further behind in the struggle for development.
These expanding pockets of privation in the midst of plenty are seedbeds of envy, resentment, tension, and conflict. This underlines the need for "effective international agencies which will oversee and direct the economy to the common good" Centesimus Annus , Faced with grave injustices, it is not enough for communicators simply to say that their job is to report things as they are.
That undoubtedly is their job. But some instances of human suffering are largely ignored by media even as others are reported; and insofar as this reflects a decision by communicators, it reflects indefensible selectivity. Even more fundamentally, communication structures and policies and the allocation of technology are factors helping to make some people "information rich" and others "information poor" at a time when prosperity, and even survival, depend on information.
In such ways, then, media often contribute to the injustices and imbalances that give rise to suffering they report. Communications and information technology, along with training in its use, is one such basic condition. Unscrupulous politicians use media for demagoguery and deception in support of unjust policies and oppressive regimes. They misrepresent opponents and systematically distort and suppress the truth by propaganda and "spin". Rather than drawing people together, media then serve to drive them apart, creating tensions and suspicions that set the stage for conflict.
Even in countries with democratic systems, it is all too common for political leaders to manipulate public opinion through the media instead of fostering informed participation in the political process. The conventions of democracy are observed, but techniques borrowed from advertising and public relations are deployed on behalf of policies that exploit particular groups and violate fundamental rights, including the right to life cf.
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Often, too, the media popularize the ethical relativism and utilitarianism that underlie today's culture of death. They participate in the contemporary "conspiracy against life" by "lending credit to that culture which presents recourse to contraception, sterilization, abortion and even euthanasia as a mark of progress and a victory of freedom, while depicting as enemies of freedom and progress those positions which are unreservedly pro-life" Evangelium Vitae , Critics frequently decry the superficiality and bad taste of media, and although they are not obliged to be somber and dull, they should not be tawdry and demeaning either.
It is no excuse to say the media reflect popular standards; for they also powerfully influence popular standards and so have a serious duty to uplift, not degrade, them. The problem takes various forms. Instead of explaining complex matters carefully and truthfully, news media avoid or oversimplify them.
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Entertainment media feature presentations of a corrupting, dehumanizing kind, including exploitative treatments of sexuality and violence. On the international level, cultural domination imposed through the means of social communication also is a serious, growing problem.
Traditional cultural expressions are virtually excluded from access to popular media in some places and face extinction; meanwhile the values of affluent, secularized societies increasingly supplant the traditional values of societies less wealthy and powerful. In considering these matters, particular attention should go to providing children and young people with media presentations that put them in living contact with their cultural heritage.
Communication across cultural lines is desirable. Societies can and should learn from one another. But transcultural communication should not be at the expense of the less powerful. Today "even the least-widespread cultures are no longer isolated. They benefit from an increase in contacts, but they also suffer from the pressures of a powerful trend toward uniformity" Toward a Pastoral Approach To Culture , Have the rich nothing to learn from the poor?
Are the powerful deaf to the voices of the weak? Instead of promoting learning, media can distract people and cause them to waste time. Children and young people are especially harmed in this way, but adults also suffer from exposure to banal, trashy presentations. Among the causes of this abuse of trust by communicators is greed that puts profits before persons. Sometimes, too, media are used as tools of indoctrination, with the aim of controlling what people know and denying them access to information the authorities do not want them to have.
This is a perversion of genuine education, which seeks to expand people's knowledge and skills and help them pursue worthy purposes, not narrow their horizons and harness their energies in the service of ideology.