By Fr Nigel Barrett
Varanasi, March 15, 2019: Church communicators should become prophets in this age of fake news and denounce fearlessly all that is wrong in the country as well as in the church, says the editor of a leading Christian weekly in India.
“In the thirst to be first, truth has been sacrificed on the altar of ‘breaking news’,” Father Suresh Mathew, editor of the Indian Currents, told a meeting of diocesan communicators at Varanasi organized by the Office of Social Communication of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI).
The New Delhi-based Capuchin priest noted that political parties, who have understood the impact of “seeing-is-believing,” now resort to social media, especially WhatsApp, to propagate their political agendas.
In the process, social media platforms have become “factories of disinformation” and “promoters of fake news,” regretted Father Mathew, who was recently elected national secretary of the Indian Catholic Press Association.
In his presentation, “Good News versus Fake News – Modern Areopagus at the Service of the Church,” the priest questioned the role of mainstream “propaganda” media and urged Church communicators to look at the idea of being a prophet in this age, “one who announces the good news but is fearless in denouncing all that is wrong in the country/church.”
The March 11-15 meeting at Varanasi’s Nav Sadhana Pastoral Centre, was attended by people responsible of social communication in 14 CBCI regions. Also present were bishops involved in the communication ministry.
CBCI secretary general Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, who led the opening Mass, highlighted the need for effective communications and communication strategies.
He illustrated how the Church successfully dealt with situations when it communicated promptly and effectively. However, when the Church was slow to respond, the issues went out of its control.
The prelate too urged church communicators to speak out and present the Church’s perspective based on firm realities: conviction of the faith, commitment and faithfulness to the Church, and commitment to the Kingdom of God.
Bishop Salvador Lobo of Baruipur, the chairman of the Office of Social Communications who led the Mass on the second day, urged the participants to fight fake news by communicating truth — the antidote to the falsehood.
Highlighting Pope Francis’ message on World Communications Day 2018 – “The Truth Will Set You Free” – Bishop Lobo exhorted the delegates to become ‘ambassadors of Good News’ and be the ‘truth serum’ in the world.
Bishops Poola Anthony and Sebastian Thekethecheril too attended the meeting.
The students of Nav Sadhana Kala Kendra, the in-house school of culture, presented a cultural program that highlighted the pros and cons of social media within the family and showed how one can control social media instead of social media controlling humans.