MILWAUKEE (June 14, 2000) -- The U.S. Bishops are expected to call for civil discourse in both Catholic and secular media during their June 15-17 meeting in Milwaukee, when they vote on a brief document titled "Civility in Media."
The document is being proposed by the Bishops' Committee on Communications, headed by Bishop Robert N. Lynch of St. Petersburg, Florida.
The statement is designed to provide a baseline for offering constructive criticism of media behavior.
In the proposed statement, the bishops note that today's "means of mass communication increasingly appears to be as likely to divide people as to bring them together. Some in the media seem interested in defending human dignity, while others appear interested in simply demeaning people. In this situation, professional Catholic media and journalism can provide, in their specific field of competence, what the whole Church provides: the offer of an alternative to the way of the world."
It notes that some in Catholic media may be tempted to adopt "the corrosive cynicism" sometimes found in secular media.
"With this in mind, the Catholic Bishops of the United States find it appropriate to offer a reminder about the importance of civility in media discourse within and outside the Church. When tactics like those listed below are employed, a disservice is done to those subjected to them, to the church community or to society at large, and ultimately to those who engage in such tactics. This happens when the media encourage disagreements on policy to degenerate into personal hostility or when they allow the ad hominem attack to replace discussion of issues. Within the church community, this disservice occurs, above all, when not only the positions held by others are questioned, which may be legitimate, but also persons' characters and their fidelity to our common beliefs.
"Persons in both the secular and church media ought to conduct themselves with a regard for the worth and dignity of every person. Church media have the additional responsibility of contributing, according to their proper mission, to the unity that is essential to the Church's effectiveness in proclaiming the Gospel," the statement notes.
Among the behaviors listed in the document that demonstrate a lack of civility are:
- "Elevating rumor to fact
- "Distorting the words or opinions of others, in particular by taking them out of context or putting them into a context for which they were not intended;
- "Presuming deceitful and mendacious motives on the part of others;
- "Engaging in personal attacks that not only belittle or defame the individuals involved but also risk spreading scandal, confusion, and doubt;
- "Alternately, media civility includes:
- "Checking facts with the persons or institutions reported on
- "Accurately reporting their words and opinions;
- "Making no presumption about motives without evidence;
- "Concentrating on issues and avoiding ad hominem attacks.
"Bishops have an obligation to offer leadership when open debate, which is an important and legitimate dimension of the media, threatens to go beyond the bounds of civil discourse and fosters division between the Bishops and those they lead, among the bishops themselves, or even between the bishops and the Holy See," the statement notes. "We acknowledge that the bishops' role in the Church inevitably puts us in a position in which we may be criticized for some actions. Catholic media have the right to engage in such criticism carried on in the spirit of civility already described."