About fabricated information
Bishop Adam Lepa
It is usually said that information has benefits that are evident. Thanks to that an individual deepens knowledge, strengthens relationships with other people, fulfils the need to inform and being informed as well as builds a society of information. But the common admiration for information is passing slowly. Since the reliability of information is undermined and its rank is diminished when it is compared with communication. That’s why we rather speak about ‘society of communication’ whereas information is rightly accused. One of the accusations is that it becomes a too easy target of producing ‘prefabricates’ that are far from the aims the information based on values, and first of all on the truth, should serve. Thus ‘fabricated information’ cannot be accepted.
Not long ago the accusations towards information were reduced to its discordance with the truth. Proper adjectives were used to explain in what aspect some concrete item of information is contrary to the truth. Consequently, such terms as ‘manipulated’, ‘contaminated’, falsified’ or ‘false’ information were created. Information became a carrier of various forms of lie. That’s why there was a doubt whether information was able to build a society of information, which would be based on solid relationships and the truth. ‘Falsified’ or ‘manipulated’ information does not give such a guarantee. Since solid structures and relationships are not built on lies. Therefore, today there is a suggestion to build a society of communication.
In Paris an interesting publication dedicated to information has been published recently. Its title ‘La fabrication de l’information’ (Paris 2009) is meaningful. The book has two authors: Florence Aubenas, a journalist, and Miguel Benasayag, a philosopher. They have written many books concerning social issues, including the mass media. One can be astonished at the semantic context of the title since in colloquial French ‘fabriquer’ means ‘to invent, to make up’, e.g. to invent some story. The subtitle of the book suggests that the factor that exerts a negative influence on journalists, which involves the transmitted information, is their entanglement in ideology.
Media resistant to criticism
The authors warn readers against the uncritical acceptance of information. They also turn their attention to the alarming regularity. The media are commonly criticised and journalists are brought to heel, for instance because of the manipulated information.
Despite that one cannot see any improvement in this respect. Moreover, the addressees of the media themselves, although they share this concern, do not change their habits of consuming the media. Whereas the media neglect criticism and even seem to make the impression that the attacks against them strengthen their positions.
The motives to fabricate information can vary – information contrary to the facts, common good or the good of man who is the man addressee of information. One can distinguish three groups of motives: political, ideological and economic. Fabricated information is consciously falsified, i.e. not true. Today no one tells straight lies in public life; the lies are so camouflaged that even educated people are deceived, without suspecting any lie.
What can recipients do?
Prevaricating the reality involves various forms but the most often ones are: secret manipulation, new myths or professional juggling with illusion. The fundamental material in this procedure is always information, which constitutes the foundation of human relationships, public life, politics and the functioning of the media. Man lives constantly in the great world of information and gets used to it so much that he cannot live without it.
There is no recipe to protect oneself against the influence of prefabricated information, the more that especially elaborated methods are used. However, one can propose some guidelines that could help one resist the influence of fabricated information.
• In her documents on the media the Church advises to use various sources of information. It allows comparing information and revealing concealed potential lies.
• We must work on our characters so that we are not indifferent to the fact whether the media tell the truth or lies. Christ unambiguously calls his followers to respect the truth in personal and social life. He says, ‘Let your 'Yes' mean 'Yes,' and your 'No' mean 'No.' Anything more is from the evil one’ (Matthew 5:37) and ‘you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free’ (John 8:32). We read earlier in the biblical text that the last statement refers to those who remain in Christ’s word and are truly his disciples.
• The meaningful thing is that when John Paul II spoke about the media he challenged journalists to respect the truth. In 1998, speaking to the Polish bishops in Rome he stressed that ‘the proper aim and task of communications is service to the truth and its defence’ and not producing false, manipulated or contaminated information, i.e. fabricated only for politics, business or a certain ideology.
• We should get to know the main mechanisms of manipulation to be able to reveal fabricated information, call it properly and tell others about it. Today we have many such publications, written in a non-complicated language.
• It is not easy to discern fabricated information, i.e. falsifying the reality. Reading worthy books is not sufficient. In the complicated thick of information and under overwhelming media noise people get lost more and more often. Therefore, we should call upon the Holy Spirit with full confidence, praying fervently and asking him to help us. Indeed, Christ ensured us that the Holy Spirit ‘will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you’ (John 14:26).
May the annual World Communications Day become a day of deepened reflection on this topic and humble prayers in this intention.