Holy See calls for respect for religion in media, warns digital divide between rich and poor during COVID-19 'could cost lives'

Holy See calls for respect for religion in media, warns digital divide between rich and poor “could cost lives”

(Source: CD/Vatican News)

The Holy See’s delegation to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is calling for freedom and protection of the media, to advance “truth, freedom, justice and solidarity in society”.

The call came in a statement during the Second Supplementary Human Dimension Meeting on Freedom of Expression, Media and Information of the OSCE organized on Monday in Vienna. The session was entitled “Freedom of Expression and its Relation to Other Fundamental Freedom”.

Stressing that “freedom of expression, as every human right, comes with responsibilities that cannot be ignored”, the Vatican delegation said that the media should be encouraged to provide a platform for a wide range of views “both politically, but also faith-based”.

The role of the media

The statement pointed out that the media have the responsibility of giving “a fair and accurate account of religious matters” ensuring that members of religious communities “are allowed to express their own views”. 

Citing a document from the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, it further stressed that “communication should be by persons to persons for the integral development of persons”, because “the media do nothing by themselves; they are instruments, tools, used as people choose to use them”.

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To this end, the Holy See highlighted that the media should have the fundamental ethical basis of ensuring that “the human person and the human community are the end and measure of the use of the media of social communication”.

Freedom of expression and freedom of religion

Aiming at improving the media’s ethical standards, the statement touched on the relationship between freedom of expression and freedom of religion. It pointed out that “freedom of religion or belief does not preclude from critical debate or serious discussion about religion”.

The Vatican delegation noted that it is “not acceptable to hide behind freedom of expression as a justification for discrimination, hostility or violence against a religion or its members”. 

In this regard, “freedom of expression must allow a space to develop where both sides are able to express their views with respect and without fear from the other, even when this goes counter-current”.

Appeals

Addressing participating States, the Holy See delegation urged them to encourage representatives of religious communities to give their views “based on moral convictions deriving from their faith”.

This will “allow an alternative voice from the political mainstream to be heard and prevent deeply held moral views from being disregarded or denigrated in the public discourse”.

The statement further appealed that special attention should be paid to the use of the internet, especially to social networks, as it could be used in the promotion of irreverent treatment of religious symbols or provocative material.

It called on internet service-providers and social networking services to adopt “clear, transparent, and non-discriminatory standards that prevent intolerant and inflammatory behavior”.

The Vatican delegation called on the Representative on the Freedom of the Media and the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) to develop specific guidelines for voluntary professional standards on promoting religious tolerance and non-discrimination in the media.

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COVID-19

In light of the current COVID-19 crisis, the statement highlighted that inequalities in access to information place people in vulnerable situations at great risks of suffering. 

“The digital gap between the rich and poor could cost lives, especially when crucial information on COVID-19 is not timely, if received at all, in low-income communities”, the delegation noted.

Reiterating Pope Francis’s words during an interview in April, the Holy See stressed that “this is the time to see the poor”.

The statement concluded by adding that we need to reconsider how social rights and economic development are essential to avoid that “the existence of poverty inhibits the full and effective enjoyment of access to information”.

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Cameron Doody

Director and editor at Novena
PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. Lecturer in ethics at Loyola University Maryland, Alcalá de Henares (Spain) campus. Religion journalist with 4 years experience.