Fr. Roy Cimagala

HANDLING DATA and information has its proper requirements and ways that all of us have to learn. Considering both the level and pace of our development now, this responsibility acquires even greater urgency.

Let’s not be casual about this business because it truly is a serious responsibility. We cannot afford to be tepid, confusing it with being open, because what is needed is a clear and strong commitment to the common good.

We cannot be naïve in thinking that the field is always safe. There are many crooks around, and let’s never forget the real existence of the devil who can cleverly take advantage of our weaknesses to advance his agenda.

We have to be forever vigilant, always checking the different elements involved in handling information. The field is more of a seascape ever dynamic and fluid, with different currents. We need to learn how to navigate it properly.

Let’s first quote what the Catechism says about this duty. It’s a good starting point for our discussion, giving us some guiding criteria.

In point no. 2494, we read: “Society has the right to information based on truth, freedom, justice and solidarity. The proper exercise of this right demands that the content of the communication be true and—within the limits set by justice and charity—complete.”

It continues: “This means that in the gathering and in the publication of news, the moral law and the legitimate rights and dignity of man should be upheld.”

As we can readily see, handling information requires a number of considerations that have to be deftly integrated so that what comes out in the papers and in the broadcast really suits our dignity.

Both the media people and the media audience are not mere objects, much less, animals that can just be handled without care for understanding and compassion. We are persons, and more importantly, we are children of God, even if sometimes, nay, many times, we do not behave as such.

We have to be wary of that subtle but dangerous attitude consisting of thinking that to be fair and objective, we in the media should just be open and simply report the event. We are just reflectors, not light givers.

That’s not quite correct. We reflect things, indeed, and we have to reflect them with objectivity and fairness. But we also affect and effect things. We in the media figure prominently in at least creating the temper of our public opinion.

While openness, fairness and objectivity are always good values to uphold and defend, they easily get abused and are prone to our predatory tendencies for sensationalism, shallow, knee-jerk reactions, reckless inanities if they are not clearly grounded on charity, goodness, understanding, compassion, etc.

There has to be a strong commitment to the common good, a commitment that has to be revved up everyday, renewing and whetting our eagerness to do good and to serve others properly, without ever playing on their vulnerabilities.

Alas, in many instances these guiding principles are violated. And even with flaunting impunity!

In some radio talk shows these days, for example, even the basic laws of logic and good manners are abandoned. One wonders if we are still in the stone age.

We always have freedom of expression, but that is never meant to be a cover for malice or an excuse for irresponsible commentaries. Name-calling and other vicious “ad hominem” arguments are aplenty. Exaggerated and often unfounded claims are made.

Foul words are often used. Wild innuendoes are sounded off. Again one wonders if these commentators have passed basic psychological tests. They seem to spew only venom into the airwaves. And no one seems to call their attention.

Of course, they can enjoy a big following, often composed of a silent, passive and hidden gallery, just like those who secretly read and watch pornography. This is actually a problem and a challenge to our leaders.

We have to teach media users to be vigilant and discerning consumers. We have to learn to discuss issues civilly, using reason rather than emotions. We can disagree, and even with forcefulness, but always within the ambit of charity and genuine, dispassionate search for truth and justice.

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