Press Statement on the Pope's Media Message

"Addressed Primarily, Although Not Exclusively, to the Digital Generation"

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VATICAN CITY, JAN. 23, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Here is the statement Monsignor Paul Tighe, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, gave today at the press conference that released Benedict XVI's message for the 43rd World Communications Day.

The theme for the day is "New Technologies, New Relationships. Promoting a culture of Respect, Dialogue and Friendship."

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This year's message is addressed primarily, although not exclusively, to the digital generation. The digital generation refers in general to those who have grown up with the new ICTs and who use them spontaneously and almost intuitively. Some commentators have used the terms "digital natives" or "born digital" to refer to this cohort and to distinguish them from other users of digital technologies, sometimes called "digital immigrants", who use the new technologies with varying degrees of competence and enthusiasm but whose basic communication skills were developed with an analogical paradigm.

The digital generation has come of age in the world of computers, mobile telephones, text and instant messaging, blogging, platforms for video content, internet chat rooms and on-line social networks. It would be a mistake, however, to see these changes as merely technological; they have also revolutionized the culture of communications. They have changed the ways people communicate, the ways they associate and form communities, the ways by which they learn about the world, the ways in which they engage with political and commercial organizations. Whereas in the past, we tended to see the reader, listener or watcher of media as a passive spectator of centrally generated content, it is clear that today we must understand the audience as more selectively and interactively engaging with a wider range of media. The logic of communications has been radically changed – the focus on the media has been replaced by a concentration on the audience which is increasingly autonomous and deliberative in its consumption of media.

That is why this year's message invites all those who engage with the new media to be attentive to the content they are generating, sharing or drawing to the attention of others. It is inviting them to avoid the creation or distribution of words or images that are abusive or lacking in respect for the dignity or worth of other people. We are all aware of the risks of new forms of cyber-bullying and abusive postings that have emerged in recent years. It is also important that users of the new media are prudent in terms of words or images they distribute concerning themselves – material posted electronically is not easily removed and no one wants to live with a permanent reminder of youthful excesses or ill-advised utterances.

The message is attentive to the reality that the new means of digital communication can be much more invasive and demanding than the traditional means. The message points out the irony of the situation, if the sense of obligation to maintain virtual connectedness were to isolate people from more immediate forms of social interaction with family, friends and colleagues. It also recognizes that the pervasive nature of modern communications practices could be disruptive of the patterns of rest, silence and reflection that are necessary for our well-being.

Building on the biblical concept of all people being created in the image and likeness of God, and therefore being pre-disposed for relationship with others, the message concentrates on the theme of friendship as a point of contact between all people of good will. It celebrates the capacity of the new technologies to foster and support good and healthy relationships and various forms of solidarity. It appeals to friendship as a motive to ensure that the new digital world is truly accessible to all. It finds in friendship a shared reference point with all of humanity that grounds the appeal of the message to promote a culture where there is respect for all and where all are invited to search for truth in dialogue.

In presenting the Pope's message this year, the Pontifical Council is also conscious of the practical implications of the new culture of communications it seeks to understand and relate to as part of its mandate. For this reason, we are also launching the message electronically. The text of the message is being sent to thousands of young Catholics throughout the world and they are being invited to share it with their friends, especially with those friends with whom they are digitally networked. I would like to thank the various Communications Departments and Youth Ministry Departments of the Episcopal Conferences who are working with us on this project.