Pope Francis has warned that when journalism is based on rumors or on stoking public fear, it can become a "form of terrorism" and a "weapon of destruction" of both people and nations.
The Pope met Sept. 22 with the Italian National Council of the Order of Journalists at the Vatican, telling them that truth, professionalism and respect for human dignity are essential elements in their work.
The pontiff told them that there are few professions that have "so much influence on society like that of journalism."
He noted that they are usually the ones who are there to record what has been called, the "first draft of history," and "the building of the news agenda and introducing people to the interpretation of events."
Francis also urged journalists not to stoke fear regarding phenomena such as migration forced by war or hunger, Crux reports.
"I have often spoken of rumors as 'terrorism,' of how you can kill a person with the tongue," Francis said.
"If this is valid for an individual person, in the family or at work, so much more it's valid for journalists, because their voice can reach everyone, and this is a very powerful weapon," he said.
The Pope said, however, criticism is legitimate, as well as the "denunciation of evil, but this must always be done respecting the other, his life, his affections."
He said this because an article is replaced from one day to the other, but the life of a person "unjustly defamed can be destroyed forever."
Francis addressed close to 400 journalists from group and he took time after his remarks, to greet each one of them.
The pontiff also said that when practiced with professionalism, journalism is a fundamental element of an independent and pluralist society.
He named three essential elements in the work of a journalist, that he said, could serve to "improve the society in which we live." These are: to love the truth, to embody professionalism and to respect human dignity.
On the first, the pope said that it's not about believing in something or not, but about being honest, and never publishing a story - either in print, radio, TV or social media- knowing it's false.
24 HOURS A DAY NEWS CYCLE
"I understand that in today's journalism, with an uninterrupted flux of facts and events told 24 hours a day, seven days a week, it's not always easy to get to the truth, or even to get close to it," Francis said.
He also referred to a concept he's used when talking to priests, saying that everything in life is black or white.
"Even in journalism, it's necessary to discern between the shades of gray of the events being told," he said, particularly when it's about topics such as politics or war, that are rarely the result of clear dynamics.
Living with professionalism, according to Francis, means not to pin one's profession to the interests of others, either economic or political.
"It's important to always reflect on the fact that, across history, dictatorships- of any orientation or 'color'- have always tried to not only undertake the media, but also to impose new rules to the profession," he said.
Francis called journalists to be an "instrument of construction," factors in the common good, capable of avoiding the temptation of fomenting confrontation and instead promoters of a "culture of encounter."