AT THE outset, I would like to congratulate all the media practitioners for celebrating the Press Freedom Week. Thank you for your tireless effort to bring the latest news to the public.
Since the beginning of Christianity, Christian preachers and proclaimers of the Gospel have always sought the areopagi of the world, which Saint John Paul II calls "the public space where politics and business are transacted, where religious duties are fulfilled, where much of the social life of the city took place, and where the best and worst of human nature is displayed (quoting from the message the Holy Father Pope John II, in his message on World Communication Day on May 12, 2002.)
In the past, the aereopagus or the forum referred to a place. Today, parks and public spaces are still used as venues for discussions and exchange of ideas. Increasingly, however, the advancement in the means of social communications have transferred the aereopagus from physical place into the realm of virtual reality, where individuals lounging in the comfort of their homes can communicate with anyone in the world at anytime and on any topic. The internet has transformed the world into a global village, and we who are its citizens, must learn to cope with the values this new situation has spawned.
In our context today, our world highlights its new way of communication from cellphone, which has transformed the shape and length of our index fingers, to the so-called AI or Artificial intelligence (AI) which is the ability of a computer to do tasks that are usually done by humans because they require human intelligence and discernment.
I remember when I was a student, before I could make a final paper, I needed to open the voluminous encyclopedia, wrote in the index card what details I gathered, then composed in a sheet of paper. I would then start pressing the keys of the typewriter. And once I committed an error, I would erase using a white ink. However, today, by just a single press of the cellphone, we can find answers and even compose messages and articles using AI. I wonder if we could still use the gift of imagination and intelligence God has given to us. On the one hand, through the use of internet and AI, everything seems to be very convenient, easy and stress free. But on the other hand, it hinders the mind to imagine and to think and cripples the value of hardwork and resourcefulness.
While communication and information technology can change the way we live, they are still means to an end. As means, they must fall under the category of equipment, as something useful but not to paralyzed and disregard the innate gift persons have - the gift of intelligence. As equipment, they must fall under the dominion of man, in whom alone there can be an interplay of motives and values.
At a time when individuals have instant access to information and to almost everyone in a personal conversation through the internet and cellphone, what role is left for the media practitioners to play? At a time when information and communication are approaching full democratization, what is left for the newsperson, the columnist, the newscaster and the reporter to do? Will media's relevance be reduced to pure entertainment value?
I think, however, that media practitioners will continue to play an important role in the shaping of society, because while the internet and the cellphone connect individuals at the personal level, media practitioners connect them at communal level. While e-mails, cellphones and groupchats allow people to talk to each other directly, it is still mass media which determines what they will be talking about. The media practitioner connects persons to each other, not in a personal way but in an experience into a communal event. He projects himself unto the consciousness of the community so that what he experiences and even thinks becomes an experience and the way the community thinks.
Herein lies the great responsibility placed upon all of you, practitioners of the media. The power to shape the consciousness of a society lies in your hands, or more properly, at your fingertips and lips and, to quote a line from one popular media creations. "with great power comes great responsibility."
There is a symbiotic relationship between media and the public it serves. Media is determined by the values of its public, while the public is likewise formed by the values proclaimed by media. This symbiosis, however, does not justify the claim that media must feed what the public wants from it, and that it cannot be more than the kind of public it serves.
If media practitioners must project a personal experience into the communal consciousness, then you must immerse yourselves in the values of the community you serve. It is in this immersion that you will find the values that hold the community together, the values that make them truly human.
Throughout human history, men and women have attempted to come together under all kinds of causes and ideals. Some people are drawn to each other by a common idea. Still others are gathered together for a common form of enjoyment.
Ideals are vital forces that can bring people together. But when God is replaced by mere human values, man will never be able to attain perfection. Humanism without God is a dead-end street. Remember the Tower of Babel, built by men who aimed to reach the skies; they built their tower so high upon so shallow a foundation, it collapsed under the weight of their ambition.
Enjoyment too bring people together. But enjoyment can make us forget that real source of our joy. Enjoyment can make us allergic to pain and sacrifice, and addicted to sensual pleasure. Remember Sodom and Gomorrah, cities whose people have become so depraved with enjoyment they regarded the angels of God with lascivious intent. When the wrath of God caught up their wicked ways, the sap of their enjoyment turned into a lake of sulfur.
During the 38th World Communication Day, the Holy Father Pope John Paul II said that media is a risk because it is has 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.But the Holy Father also recognizes the media's capacity to enhance our worldview by bringing to the homes vital information and programs which reinforces cultural and moral values. Media is therefore a double-edged sword, and its use must be accompanied by mature and critical discernment using the Gospel values.
Media is a powerful instrument in setting agenda, in diffusing trends and ideologies and in cultivating behaviors and lifestyles. This condition leads us to realize the words of our first reading from the Book of Sirach if we use media in order to promote a culture of wrath and anger. Or on the contrary, with our responsorial psalm, do we remind the people that the Lord is kind and merciful, slow to anger and rich in compassion? Or do we promote forgiveness which St. Matthew in our Gospel Reading reminds us.
This then is the task of the media - to affirm the positive values that bind together a community, and to reconstruct the values lost by one that is in the process of breaking up. When a community loses its values, it also loses its identity, its cohesiveness, its capacity for meaning. It is the role of the media to provide meaning to the events that are happening in and outside the community they serve. And meaning is incumbent upon values. If a media practitioner does not live the values of the community, what kind of meaning can he provide? St. Paul, in our second reading, reminds the Romans that if we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord. So then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord's.
As long as the beginning and end of all information and communication technology remain to be the human person, I am confident that it will always serve the ends of man. I believe that God has planted in the heart of every human person a longing for transcendence. This longing is manifested in his never-ending search for meaning. The questions he asks about himself, about the world and about God will never be answered by any form of technology. Technology itself is just one attempt at answering life's ultimate questions. In the end, it is the questions themselves that provide a glimpse of the answer.
Rev. Fr. Mhar Vincent R. Balili
New Rector of the Seminario Mayor de San Carlos
September 17, 2023