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Journalists in Africa Cautioned against Breeding “anarchy and chaos” on Media Platforms

Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama addressing journalists during a press conference to mark World Communications Day in Nigeria's Abuja Archdiocese. Credit: Archdiocese of Abuja/Facebook.

Journalists in Africa have been urged to adhere to responsible use of media in building the society and to desist from using their God-given talent to cause disorder in the communities they serve.

In his message on the 55th World Day of Communications marked May 16, Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Nigeria’s Catholic Archdiocese of Abuja referred to modern media communications as both a peace asset and a tool for violence.

Making reference to the 2021 World Day of Communications theme, “Come and See” (Jn. 1:46). Communicating by Encountering People Where and as They Are,” Archbishop Kaigama said that this theme “projects modern media communication as an asset that could help advance peace and order, but at the same time it can be used to instigate violence.”

Media, the Archbishop said, can also fuel prejudice and contempt between individuals and among peoples and called upon journalists to adhere to objectivity, respect for human rights, and dignity in their reportage.

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In his Sunday, May 16 homily at Our Lady Queen of Nigeria Pro-Cathedral of Abuja Archdiocese, the Nigerian Archbishop further called on journalists to consider journalism as a common good and to always avoid “hostility and confusion” in their professional practice.

“There must be a responsible and accountable use of the media or else we breed anarchy and chaos,” the Catholic Archbishop warned.

Instituted by Pope Paul VII in 1967, the World Day of Communications is an annual celebration that allows for reflection on the opportunities in modern means of communication and what Pope Francis has referred to as the “hidden dangers on the web.”

In his message for the World Day of Communications this year, the Holy Father has highlighted the countless opportunities that digital media offers.

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He says that the Internet, with its countless social media expressions, can increase the capacity for reporting and sharing, “with many more eyes on the world and a constant flood of images and testimonies.”

“Digital technology gives us the possibility of timely first-hand information that is often quite useful,” Pope Francis says, and adds, “We can think of certain emergency situations where the Internet was the first to report the news and communicate official notices.”

The Internet, Pope Francis further says, is a powerful tool, which demands that those in possession of it are responsible as users and consumers.

“Potentially we can all become witnesses to events that otherwise would be overlooked by the traditional media, offer a contribution to society and highlight more stories, including positive ones. Thanks to the Internet we have the opportunity to report what we see, what is taking place before our eyes, and to share it with others,” he says.

Archbishop Kaigama’s message is reiterated by Bishop Peter Ebere Okpaleke of Nigeria’s Ekwulobia Diocese who says that in modern communications, everyone with a smartphone can perform the role traditionally performed by professional journalists.

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“More recently, social media has made it possible for everyone with a smartphone to publish whatever he or she likes, without any group playing any supervisory role,” Bishop Okpaleke says in his reflection on the World Day of communications, the annual event marked on the Sunday before the Solemnity of Pentecost.

 

The Nigerian Bishop adds, “It is as if Pope St. Paul VI saw the enormous potentials and the dangers in these modern means of communication and made it possible for the Church to engage them.”

According to the Local Ordinary of the Diocese of Ekwulobia, Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) world over “have compressed space and time.”

He says that through WhatsApp and other Internet-enabled social media applications, people, thousands of miles apart, can chat with each other either by text, voice, or video.

The challenge with this, the Bishop says, is relegating the more engaging person-to-person communications among neighbors and people who stay together.

“There is presently a seeming preference for mediated reality,” Bishop Okpaleke says, and adds, “Immediate presence, seen in the face-to-face encounter and the broad range of information that come therefrom, is being relegated to the background. There is a saying that people prefer to spend time on Facebook rather than look at real faces or read real books.”

In his message for the annual event, Pope Francis has pointed out the risk of misinformation being spread on social media having become evident to everyone owing to the growth of Internet-mediated communication.

“We have known for some time that news and even images can be easily manipulated, for any number of reasons, at times simply for sheer narcissism,” Pope Francis says in his message published 23 January 2021, Vigil of the Memorial of Saint Francis de Sales.

He urges communicators to be responsible for the information shared on the internet, and says, “All of us are responsible for the communications we make, for the information we share, for the control that we can exert over fake news by exposing it. All of us are to be witnesses of the truth, to go, to see and to share.”

In a reflection that was shared with ACI Africa ahead of the 2021 World Day of Communications, Bishop Emmanuel Badejo who is at the helm of the Pan African Episcopal Committee for Social Communications (CEPACS) appealed with journalists on the continent to construct authentic stories “that can help many countries and peoples of the world which have been abandoned to their fate under racism, oppression, discrimination, conflicts, insurgency, epidemic and war to find sympathy and solidarity.”

“After all, the fact is that many countries and institutions and individuals who can make a difference, really rely only on the reports of the media and journalists for their decision-making process for bad or for good,” Bishop Badejo said in the reflection that was shared with ACI Africa May 9.

Bishop Badejo’s message echoed that of the Chairman of the Commission for Social Communication of the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops (KCCB), Bishop Joseph Obanyi who also challenged journalists in Kenya to engage in evidence-based reporting rather than armchair journalism.

“Communicators are invited to hit the streets. Go out and discover. Take your cameras, take your pen and your paper and go to the situation of the people and write from what you see and experience,” Bishop Obanyi of Kenya’s Kakamega Diocese said May 6 while presiding over Holy Mass to mark, in advance, the global communications event.

“The challenge that awaits all of us is to communicate by meeting people, not to remain in the newsroom. Communication is about encountering people,” the Kenyan Bishop emphasized, urging journalists to “go out and encounter the people in their sufferings, joys and sorrows, celebrations of life and faith, then we shall be authentic and have reached what God wants for us.”