The Public Broadcasting Services has decided to publicise its Guidelines concerning the Obligation of Due impartiality which will come into effect as from June 1. Certainly this decision is highly laudable.
It is right that, being the national broadcaster, PBS’ journalists and presenters of current affairs should refrain from any subjective reporting and stick instead to the objectivity of facts that are aired daily to the general public. People’s right to access correct media information, which, in turn, will help them better make an appropriate judgment on the news they constantly receive, is sacrosanct. It should be fully respected at all costs.
But what makes a committed, authentic, and most of all, conscientious journalist? Any professional journalist, worth his/her name, has, knowingly or unknowingly, to subscribe to Jesus’ definition on the role of truth. “The truth will make you free” (Jn 8 32). Truth is challenging and its cost is undoubtedly expensive. Not few were the journalists who paid with their lives for the formidable service they rendered in order that the saving truth will inform the consciences of the newspapers’ readers, TV viewers and Radio listeners.
Here, I want to personally pay my sincere tribute to the great and brave American reporter of The Sunday Times of London, Marie Colvin, together with the French photographer, Rémi Ochlik, both slain in Syria as a result of the Syrian security forces’ shelling of the central city of Homs, on 22 February of this year. I simply call these two media workers “heroes of ‘whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious’” (Phil 4, 8). They sacrificed their very lives in order to serve the truth which gradually and finally liberates the oppressed from their oppressors.
Although not every journalist will ultimately have to face the same fate of Colvin, Ochlik and many others, any serious journalist needs much courage, wisdom and discernment so that s/he may never become an easy prey of manipulation of all sorts. Sectarianism in reporting and divulging information, from whichever source it comes, kills the credibility of journalism itself and relegates this noble art into a sheer lip service to the cause of specified partisan groups. Any journalist, worth his/her salt, is constantly faced with dramatic crossroads; either giving in to self-promotion or serving objective truth, favouring a distorted propaganda or patiently verifying and clarifying the nature of reported facts, exploiting every opportunity to champion hidden agendas or searching for the truth to share it with others.
The temptation for revenge, picturing rosy or gloomy pictures of reality, manipulating the objectivity of facts or purposely twisting the story up to the point of gently placing into it unnecessary doubts is always available for one’s disposal. However, journalists are clever enough to bypass such a destructive mode of doing journalism and instead espousing alternative ways so as to bring about the essential changes that are needed in every sphere of the society they are reporting to. Thought-provoking argumentation, constructive criticism, which obviously includes giving concrete suggestions as to how things should be run in the country in question, should be the order of the day for every honest journalist. Moreover, journalists are to promote the institution of the family as well as creating and fostering a family spirit within the nation.
In Blessed John Paul II’s words, journalists “will interpret modern cultural needs, committing themselves to approaching the communications age… as a valuable time for the quest for the truth and for developing communion between persons and peoples”.
Journalists’ inherent vocation is that of being honest heralds of the liberating truth.
■ Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap