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The media do nothing by themselves

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. Inter Mirifica, 1; Evangelii Nuntiandi, 45; Redemptoris Missio, 37). She desires to support those who are professionally involved in communication by setting out positive principles to assist them in their work, while fostering a dialogue in which all interested parties—today, that means nearly everyone—can participate. 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, 15).

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). — from Ethics in Communications (2000)