Pope Francis takes aim at ‘fake news’ in address

The pontiff says that the snake in the Garden of Eden was the first to use the practice to tempt Eve

epa06470276 Pope Francis (C) waves to faithful gathering for the weekly General Audience in Saint Peters Square, Vatican City, 24 January 2018.  EPA/ALESSANDRO DI MEO

Pope Francis has become the latest world leader to weigh in on the subject of "fake news", invoking the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, and comparing the snake who tempted Eve with the modern-day practitioners of disinformation.

In a message released for World Communications Day 2018, the Pope called for a “journalism for peace” in response to fake news, which he said “thrived on the absence of healthy confrontation with other sources of information”.

Using Genesis, the first book in the Bible, as an analogy, he wrote that “we need to unmask what could be called the ‘snake-tactics’ used by those who disguise themselves in order to strike at any time and place”.

“This was the strategy employed by the ‘crafty serpent’ in the Book of Genesis, who, at the dawn of humanity, created the first fake news, which began the tragic history of human sin, beginning with the first fratricide and issuing in the countless other evils committed against God, neighbour, society and creation,” he continued.

“The strategy of this skilled ‘Father of Lies’ is precisely mimicry, that sly and dangerous form of seduction that worms its way into the heart with false and alluring arguments.”

To counter the evil of fake news, the Pope said “the best antidotes to falsehoods are not strategies, but people: people who are not greedy but ready to listen, people who make the effort to engage in sincere dialogue so that the truth can emerge”.

The people who would shoulder this “weighty responsibility” to provide information were journalists, “the protectors of news”. Journalism was “not just a job” but “a mission”, he said.

But the Pope cautioned about the dangers of the modern media, saying that “amid feeding frenzies and the mad rush for a scoop, they must remember that the heart of information is not the speed with which it is reported or its audience impact, but persons.

“Informing others means forming others,” he said. “It means being in touch with people’s lives. That is why ensuring the accuracy of sources and protecting communication are real means of promoting goodness, generating trust and opening the way to communion and peace.”

Pope Francis garnered some of the worst press of his five-year papacy on his recent visit to South America for appearing to defend a bishop accused of covering up abuse by a paedophile priest in Chile.

He accused those criticising Bishop Juan Barros of slander for saying the clergyman must have been aware of the crimes of the Reverend Fernando Karadima.

The Pope has also complained in the past about one-sided reporting on the church, which he has referred to as the “sins of the media: disinformation, slander and defamation”.