Religious freedom among values threatened by world media, experts say at conference

Participants and organizers of April 23-24, 2024, conference "Media for Man" at Pontifical University of John Paul II in Krakow, Poland, argued that media ethics not only makes media operate better, but also increases human security. (OSV News photo/courtesy Pontifical University of John Paul II in Krakow)

KRAKOW, Poland (OSV News) – The need for quality journalism and media ethics is increasingly high, experts underlined at the academic conference "Media for Man" organized by Pontifical University of John Paul II in Krakow, Poland. "At this point, it is a matter of people's security," the organizers said.

"I'm both thrilled and terrified with a great interest in media ethics' topics over the last few years," said Katarzyna Drag, professor of communications at the Pontifical University of John Paul II in Krakow and organizer of the conference.

"I'm thrilled because media ethics is an important and fundamental part of journalism. And terrified, because this increased interest is a consequence of bad practices that are spreading more and more in the media," Drag underlined.

Users of media are concerned that the media space is often lacking values and depreciating human dignity – "we went so far that we look for solutions on how to improve not only the content, but our security," Drag said.

For Martin Kugler, president of Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination against Christians in Europe (OIDAC), the pattern that Drag mentioned is visible especially in the coverage of Christian persecution in the world.

Speaking at the conference April 23, he mentioned a breaking news social media post on X, formerly Twitter, when the terrorist attack on Catholic churches and hotels in Sri Lanka killed 269 people on Easter Sunday in 2019, most of them Christians celebrating Easter.

"The influential German politician, a Twitter user, only mentioned that the attack targeted 'praying people and travelers,' while in fact it was deliberate targeting of Christians and Catholics," Kugler said.

He underlined that in regard to Christian persecution or covering "legal restrictions or legal threats for the freedom of Christians," media normally "don't cover these stories because they don't have enough understanding," Kugler told OSV News. Every day, OIDAC monitors media for stories misleadingly covered by the media, or not covered at all – and every single day, they find examples of such.

One of them, he said, is the coverage – or lack of it in mainstream media – of regular massacres of Christians in Nigeria.

"Even the European Parliament ignores the real reasons of violence in Nigeria," said Kugler, raising awareness that in a Feb. 8 resolution of the European Parliament, among the "factors fueling the clashes" the European Union institution pointed "territorial disputes, ethnic tensions, access to scarce resources and environmental degradation" but not the deliberate violence against a religious group, Kugler said.

The resolution made the Commission of the Bishops' Conference of the European Union, or COMECE, to issue a statement Feb. 9, saying that the European Parliament resolution "downplays the religious dimension of the conflict."

Had the persecution of Christians in Nigeria been on the covers of mainstream papers in the EU, the situation may have been different.

"What's the solution? Formation, formation, formation," Kugler said, pointing that "leaving information out of the context," is a plague and that "we need the formation of secular journalists."

"If we don't call persecution by name, we won't bring change," Kugler added, pointing to a 2022 Faith and News Study that indicated 61% of respondents to the survey said the media "perpetuates faith-based stereotypes" and 43% said that they feel "today’s news coverage of religion creates unease and anxiety (even more so in secular nations)."

Paul Wojda, associate professor of theology at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, said that one of the reasons for ignorant or unbalanced coverage in the media is the "need for speed."

Wojda underlined that with the unlimited spread and access to internet and social media, there is an "increasingly rapid cycle that puts pressure on journalists and people in media to create news."

For Wojda, what made the news world a place of threat instead of opportunities is "the loss of what some have called slow journalism," which allowed to investigate the story deeper and better. Lack of humility is also an issue, he said.

"Whether it's law or medicine or teaching, one of the things that a profession does is that it requires a humility – a humility before standards that you didn't create, but that you are answerable to," Wojda told OSV News.

"When a profession is healthy, it has an internal set of standards, a code of conduct that each of the members hold themselves accountable for to each other. And I think with the explosion of social media, the explosion of outlets for getting news – everyone considers themselves an expert now," Wojda said, pointing to "the loss of integrity within the profession," as a real problem.

Drag, who also leads the Institute of Journalism, Media and Social Communications at Poland's pontifical university agreed, adding the "media bubbles" that users function in are a threat to media ethics.

"If we follow only what the media feeds us, if we follow one way that the media shows us, as users we're limited to only this one particular 'bubble,'" Drag said, underlining that "it's never going to develop us," and that it leads to extreme polarization of societies, which threatens security.

"When we add to it the second issue – a very intense technological development where people and their interpersonal relationships are forgotten," we have a recipe for disaster, Drag said.

She underlined that Catholic media play an important role in putting media spotlight into values, human relationships and balancing opinions. "The Catholic media is often lifting up instead of undermining, it highlights values instead of scandals, so what Catholic media do matters greatly," she said.



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