Vatican newspaper intervenes in News International hacking row

News International: controversy over unethical journalism has spread to more than one of its newspapers (AP Photo/Akira Suemori)

The Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano has weighed in on the News of the World hacking scandal, saying it shows the urgent need for ethics both in the media industry and in general culture.

In an editorial for tomorrow’s edition, the newspaper suggested that the victims of the phone tapping scandal were not just those directly affected but also the general public and the communication industry itself.

Public opinion suffered because it was “deprived of truth in the information to which it was entitled”, the newspaper said. But it added the industry was also a victim “because it takes away the prestige and credibility of journalism which is essential to free and democratic societies.”

“This incident confirms the need and urgency, underscored by the Pope in his message for 42nd World Day of Social Communications, to require greater ethical consideration in the media, which cannot only submit to the dictates of economic and political strategies,” read the editorial, penned by Spanish media specialist, Fr José María Gil Tamayo.

He quoted the message in which the Pope said it was “essential” that social communications “should assiduously defend the person and fully respect human dignity.” The Pope noted in the message that “many people” now think “there is a need, in this sphere, for “info-ethics”, just as we have bioethics in the field of medicine and in scientific research linked to life.”

The Vatican newspaper said that civil society and especially the media need to “introduce a real code of ethics” that respects the “authentic natural and inviolable dignity of the human person”. In today’s “complex, pervasive and decisive” media environment, it said, only a society that takes such ethical considerations seriously would be able to properly exercise the “right of information”.

It proposed that such a code of conduct needs to be translated into “forms of self-control and legal protection, a true “ecology” (or ethical health) of social communication which is essential for a proper and free democratic coexistence.”

But the Vatican newspaper stressed in closing that an injection of ethics cannot happen without taking into account the moral state and health of society, which the media informs upon, and whose beliefs and behaviour it contributes to shaping.

“The ethical weakness of a society, fed also by moral relativism, has always had harmful consequences in all areas of human life,” the editorial said. It creates “a weakness from which social communications is unable to free itself,” but is instead worsened by a lack of a code of ethics which “makes the consequences even broader”.

“The anthropological and ethical deficiencies that certain ideologies have left behind are a sad legacy to contemporary society which can be overcome only with a sincere and humble return to the true moral and legal reality.” Fr Tamayo wrote.

And this, he said, must come from God who, “being the foundation, can not be ruled out.”