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Message for 2004 World Communications Day

1/26/2004 - 8:00 PM PST

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"Parents Need to Regulate the Use of Media in the Home"

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 25, 2004 (Zenit) - Here is the message John Paul II wrote for the 2004 World Communications Day. The World Day will be observed this year on May 23.

As is traditional, the Vatican press office published the message on Saturday, the feast of St. Francis of Sales.

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The Media and the Family: A Risk and a Richness

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

1. The extraordinary growth of the communications media and their increased availability has brought exceptional opportunities for enriching the lives not only of individuals, but also of families. At the same time, families today face new challenges arising from the varied and often contradictory messages presented by the mass media. The theme chosen for the 2004 World Communications Day -- "The Media and the Family: A Risk and a Richness" -- is a timely one, for it invites sober reflection on the use which families make of the media and, in turn, on the way that families and family concerns are treated by the media.

This year's theme is also a reminder to everyone, both communicators and those whom they address, that all communication has a moral dimension. As the Lord himself has said, it is from the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks (cf. Matthew 12:34-35). People grow or diminish in moral stature by the words which they speak and the messages which they choose to hear. Consequently, wisdom and discernment in the use of the media are particularly called for on the part of communications professionals, parents and educators, for their decisions greatly affect children and young people for whom they are responsible, and who are ultimately the future of society.

2. Thanks to the unprecedented expansion of the communications market in recent decades, many families throughout the world, even those of quite modest means, now have access in their own homes to immense and varied media resources. As a result, they enjoy virtually unlimited opportunities for information, education, cultural expansion, and even spiritual growth -- opportunities that far exceed those available to most families in earlier times.

Yet these same media also have the capacity to do grave harm to families by presenting an inadequate or even deformed outlook on life, on the family, on religion and on morality. This power either to reinforce or override traditional values like religion, culture, and family was clearly seen by the Second Vatican Council, which taught that "if the media are to be correctly employed, it is essential that all who use them know the principles of the moral order and apply them faithfully" ("Inter Mirifica," 4). Communication in any form must always be inspired by the ethical criterion of respect for the truth and for the dignity of the human person.

3. These considerations apply in particular to the treatment of the family in the media. On the one hand, marriage and family life are frequently depicted in a sensitive manner, realistic but also sympathetic, that celebrates virtues like love, fidelity, forgiveness, and generous self-giving for others. This is true also of media presentations which recognize the failures and disappointments inevitably experienced by married couples and families -- tensions, conflicts, setbacks, evil choices and hurtful deeds -- yet at the same time make an effort to separate right from wrong, to distinguish true love from its counterfeits, and to show the irreplaceable importance of the family as the fundamental unit of society.

On the other hand, the family and family life are all too often inadequately portrayed in the media. Infidelity, sexual activity outside of marriage, and the absence of a moral and spiritual vision of the marriage covenant are depicted uncritically, while positive support is at times given to divorce, contraception, abortion and homosexuality. Such portrayals, by promoting causes inimical to marriage and the family, are detrimental to the common good of society.

4. Conscientious reflection on the ethical dimension of communications should issue in practical initiatives aimed at eliminating the risks to the well-being of the family posed by the media and ensuring that these powerful instruments of communication will remain genuine sources of enrichment. A special responsibility in this regard lies with communicators themselves, with public authorities, and with parents.

Pope Paul VI pointed out that professional communicators should "know and respect the needs of the family, and this sometimes presupposes in them true courage, and always a high sense of responsibility" (Message for the 1969 World Communications Day). It is not so easy to resist commercial pressures or the demands of conformity to secular ideologies, but that is what responsible communicators ...

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