The Conciliar Decree on the Means of Social Communication
Bishop Adam Lepa
Bishop Adam Lepa
Our reflection upon the Decree 'Inter Mirifica' allows us to draw certain characteristics. The Council Fathers paid little attention to characteristics of the world of media and their influence on the recipients. For they did not possess suitable instruments to do so. There was also no theology of media. Therefore, they focused on three blocks of themes. These are: forming a proper reception of media, applying moral principles in their functioning and assessing the media and protecting the youth against their negative influence. Each of these leading themes was signalled in seven fragments of the Decree. Thus the Council Fathers wanted to stress the significance of the discussed issue. One should admire the right intuition of the authors of the Decree. There was no complete investigation in the field of media. The prognosis about the development of media was also careful and enigmatic. Therefore, the Council decided to deal with matters, which were most important to pastoral ministry and evangelization. After all it was a pastoral council. Today the situation is similar. Phenomena referring to the reception of mass media bring about the same problems and challenges that were evident 40 years ago. Today the pastors are worried about the following: laymen are not prepared to use media, moral principles are ignored in the functioning of media and their assessment, and the youth are endangered by certain phenomena present in media. It occurs that people, technologies, obligatory ways of bahaviour are changing but the resulting pastoral problems remain the same.
The conciliar postulate to educate people to use the media is still valid. It is not enough to inform about mass media, to teach how to use them and to teach their history. In order to prepare people to sue media properly one should educate the entire person: his intellect, will, emotions and activities. Such a formation should be applied to everybody - media senders and receivers as well as pastors and teachers. This postulate of the Second Vatican Council has been fulfilled to a great extent in the pastoral and catechetical activities of the Church. The second fundamental postulate of the Council is still to be put into practice. It is the primacy of moral principles in the function and assessment of the media. It is related to the presence of various forms of moral evil in media. Therefore, receivers' conscience should be rightly formed in the process of teaching how to use media. Unfortunately, today the primacy of moral principles in relation to media has not been applied. The laws of the market dominate in media. Whatever increases the audience, whatever increases the number of listeners and readers is good (and moral) and it brings profit. This phenomenon applies to public and commercial media. We can see most clearly in tabloid press. Inter Mirifica obliges us to protect the youth against the negative influence of media. It is the third postulate. Beside the positive influence of media there is also a negative one. The document encourages to expose the evil influence of media and to counteract its effects. Today we do not only speak about demoralizing impact of media (praising evil, pornography, lies, manipulation, etc.). However, it turns out that the most dangerous influence of media is that people are addicted to them. Researchers show that some media are able to take control over man (television, Internet, and even SMS). Thus the conciliar postulate to protect the youth against media is exceptionally valid and very urgent today.
This reflection shows that today, in the new millennium, the recommendations of the Second Vatican Council on the means of social communication are indisputable and much needed. Therefore, they should be followed with determination and courage.