What Is Good Journalism?
Media Expert Says It's Communicating the Truth
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MADRID, Spain, AUG. 29, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Good journalism always seeks the truth, and not necessarily what serves the interests of consumerism and power, says journalist and author Gabriel Galdón.
Galdón is a professor of journalism and information ethics at Madrid's CEU St. Paul University, and the director of the Observatory for the Study of Religious Information. This fall the observatory will launch a master's in social and religious communication and information, which he will direct.
The professor is also the author of "Desinformación: Método, Aspectos y Soluciones" (Disinformation: Method, Aspects and Solutions), published by EUNSA. The book is only available in Spanish, Italian and Portuguese.
In this interview with ZENIT, Galdón shares his views on what he thinks is the essence of good journalism, as well as the strength of Benedict XVI's communication style, and the importance of info-ethics.
Q: Where do you believe lies the strength of Benedict XVI's communication?
Galdón: More than ability, Benedict XVI has a gift of communication, different from John Paul II's, but of enormous effectiveness, because the message he gives always represents the essence of all good communication: the significant synthesis of knowledge at the service of society. In his communication, the Pope embodies this synthesis.
At times information is understood as something spectacular, something that attracts attention or certain gestures, forgetting that the principal thing is the message -- concrete, clear, precise -- that contains wisdom and usefulness for the citizens who wish to receive that message.
In the Holy Father's addresses, I stress, one always finds that significant synthesis of learning at the service of society, always thinking of the good of the people, of the whole of humanity, considering, moreover, the recipients not only as universal, but also concrete and in every circumstance.
His addresses likewise are suffused with a special clarity, in order that the whole world may understand the message they transmit.
Q: To affirm Benedict XVI's effectiveness of communication, it would also be necessary to verify how the message is received. But how can one do that when the media is in the middle and the message often doesn't arrive in it's entirety?
Galdón: Here is the problem, in the mediation of a press that carries out its function in a non-ethical way -- that is, not practicing the info-ethics of which Benedict XVI himself has spoken. The media often distort, sweeten or trivialize the papal message in general, and this something that is seen unfortunately in the largest media agencies. This happened with some television stations and newspapers in Spain during the World Youth Day in Sydney.
Q: Where and how do you suggest the implementation of the info-ethics that Benedict XVI requested on the last World Day of Social Communications?
Galdón: Just as there is a new science, bioethics, which was also stimulated by Catholic thought, there is now a need to configure a new Christian-humanist informative paradigm that pivots around ethics, because ethics is the essential part of information; it is its nature.
Journalism is prudential learning and, as such, it has, obviously, an ethical constitution because it has truth as its principle, which must be known to be free, the truth of which Joseph Ratzinger spoke -- before being elected Pope. Journalism's mission is to proclaim the truth that is good, the truth that serves for the good of society, and not every event whose usefulness is of no value.
One of the problems of journalism's objectivist paradigm is that there are million of events -- published daily as news -- that are of no use. They are ephemeral, vacuous and gobble up what is really essential. French writer Jean Guitton entitled one of his books "Silence sur l'essentiel" (Silence on the Essential). Often in the informative landscape there is silence on the essential and clamorous noise on the accidental and ephemeral.
Info-ethics calls, in the first place, for speaking about what people really need to know to be free and to struggle for their dignity. It is a different informative choice, but entails a radical change: from the "agenda setting" to the recipient.
It is urgent to form a critical sense in face of the media. Hence info-ethics includes the whole process: from the source of information to its reception, and traces a revolutionary horizon, in the best sense, for Catholic researchers and university faculties in regard to all that makes up the informative world.
Q: Objections might arise if the ethical practice of journalism is identified with faith, or if the mentioned informative choice is criticized as "censure."
Galdón: The choice of which I have spoken is identified with prudence and rhetoric, that is, every person must choose the best means to fulfill the best ends.
Obviously a newspaper or television news bulletin does not cover everything that has happened in the world. There must always be choice. That choice can be made with various things in mind: trends, looking to satisfy a certain audience, economic interests, power, a capitalist-consumerist paradigm, an objectivist paradigm, a sensationalist paradigm.
It can also be made by following the criteria that to seek truth is good, which citizens need to know to be freer and have more dignity. One can opt for a choice from a Christian-humanist paradigm, which, of course, is much better and it is what the media now needs, in my opinion.
Q: What place does info-ethics have at the observatory you direct?
Galdón: It's its essence. The object of the [institute] is the formation of journalists specialized in the realm of socio-religious information, to carry out precisely a journalism at the service of the dignity of persons, at the service of the truth, the good and the beautiful, and not at the service of the dominant powers.
Q: For which it's not necessary to be a believer, just honest. Right?
Galdón: The first condition of every journalist is intellectual and moral honesty, integrity. Intellectual integrity seeks the truth and in the end finds it: I am referring to Christ.
As a professor, I have known students who followed rather hedonist and consumerist criteria. However, through their interest in truth, to know things and be properly documented, in a word, because of their honesty, in some way they have found the truth in Christ.
With the criterion of intellectual honesty it is possible to engage in good journalism, but faith of course gives a light, and the profound union between faith and reason enables one to go deeper into good journalism, which always seeks man's good.