FREEDOM OF THE PRESS: WEST DUNBARTONSHIRE DECISION PUTS DEMOCRACY IN CHAINS

By Bill Heaney

The main purpose of banning the media from meetings by political organisations such as the SNP-controlled West Dunbartonshire Council is to intimidate journalists from reporting stories they would rather not see printed.

This was revealed this week when the Catholic Church warmly welcomed to the Permanent Council the Representative on Freedom of the Media, Ms Teresa Ribeiro.

Monsignor Janusz Urbanczyk, permanent representative of the Holy See in Vienna, told Ms Ribeiro the Church appreciates her intention to “dialogue on a regular basis” an shares her concern about “a worrying number of old and new developments – often interrelated and interconnected – that negatively affect freedom of the media and its essential function in our societies”.

He added: “In this regard, the Holy See considers the freedom of press and media, which should act as an instrument for conveying transparent and factual information, as an essential component to promoting democratic values and more just societies.”

His delegation “wishes to underline the right of individuals to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas, also when it comes to religious and moral issues”.

He added that unfortunately, there are many preoccupying instances where private individuals and public officials or bodies seek to frighten or intimidate Christians, Jews, Muslims and members of other religions from expressing their faith-based opinion in the public sphere and hinder them from taking an active part in society.

This intolerance is often advanced through accusations of “hatred” or “hate speech”, equating religious beliefs to hate and thus depicting religion as a problem.

The media, the Monsignor said,  should be encouraged to provide a platform for a wide range of views, including the perspective of different religions, which would allow for a much richer and broader representation of all members of society and inspire their exchange of ideas and views.

Indeed, as participating States, the Church is  committed to “favourably consider the interest of religious communities to participate in public dialogue, including through the mass media”[ and to “encourage the inclusion of religious and belief communities, in a timely fashion, in public discussions of pertinent legislative initiatives”.

He added: “”Therefore, we, the participating States, agreed to allow and encourage representatives of the religious communities to give their views – based on moral convictions deriving from their faith – and to contribute to debates about current issues. This would guarantee an enriching voice in the public discourse, providing alternative perspectives and moral views.

” At the same time, we need to emphasise that freedom of expression, as every human right, comes with responsibilities that cannot be ignored. For example, there are certain ideas that may be unsuitable for some age groups: in this case, freedom of expression must be subject to more stringent limits to protect children.”

Media must remain focused on his overall objective, namely “The human person and the human community [which] are the end and measure of the use of the media of social communication; communication should be by persons to persons for the integral development of persons”, since “the media do nothing by themselves; they are instruments, tools, used as people choose to use them”.

Pope Francis – particular attention should be given to the Internet and social media.

In this context, particular attention should be given to the Internet and social media. As Pope Francis pointed out in his Message for the 2021 World Communications Day: “the risk of misinformation being spread on social media has become evident to everyone. 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. Being critical in this regard is not about demonizing the internet, but is rather an incentive to greater discernment and responsibility for contents both sent and received. 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.”

Finally, Monsignor Janusz Urbanczyk said Holy See fully supports the efforts of the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media in advancing equal opportunities for women in the communication sector, as well as in promoting the protection of all journalists, especially women, from violence of any kind.

“We must thus recognise the importance of women’s participation and engagement in all aspects of cultural, social, political, and economic life. My Delegation is convinced that promoting equal respect and participation for women and men in and by the media is an important step in advancing comprehensive peace and security.

“In conclusion, my delegation, while renewing to Ms Ribeiro its gratitude for her leadership and efforts, wishes her every success and assure its commitment to a continued dialogue and productive engagement on issues of common interest.”

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