News, Power and Discernment

“…And after the chief priests had met with the elders and formed a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money and instructed them: “You are to say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole His body while we were asleep.’ If this report reaches the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” Matthew (28:12-14).

So you thought that fake news and its use by those who wield political power and exercise patronage is a new thing?

With the media at home and abroad increasingly losing their reputations as the sources of credible news, it is worth reminding ourselves that the powerful have always sought to shape the narrative to suit their own agenda. Donald Trump merely uses the most modern methods to do what has been happening for thousands of years.

In South Africa the battle lines have been drawn. Media houses and journalists go at one another like drug dealers fighting over turf. Society is caught underfoot like grass trampled by fighting elephants. Many no longer know who to believe or trust. Often, even the subject of a news report dismisses it as fake news.

It is easy to be disheartened. We live in an age where we are exposed to more information than any generation in human history. Yet, at the same time, we are required to be more sceptical than we have ever been.

This is a time to resist the temptation to lose interest in current affairs. A free and robust media casts a spotlight on all those entrusted with any form of authority. It is critical to participatory democracy and making informed social and political decisions.

The question we should always ask ourselves is: “Who stands to benefit from a society that has lost all interest in how those who hold political, economic, religious and other forms of power and influence in society use media?”

Only those who thrive in deeds of darkness can celebrate a society that can no longer determine what is fiction and what is fact; who are the heroes and who are villains.

The natural questions that follow are: “How does one get to know who to believe? Which of the many scenarios sketched must one take as the most plausible?”

The answer lies beyond which media platform or practitioner to believe. It is a question of discernment.

Discernment is necessary for us to fully understand what God calls us to do and how we must respond to our vocations. It is all too easy to quickly jump on the bandwagon and advance whatever happens to be a popular narrative at the time.

In this past week we celebrated the Feast of St Ignatius of Loyola (31 July), the master of discernment. It is useful to remember that the gifts that come from discernment are not only for our hearts and souls. They are just as useful in our everyday social and political decisions. We should earnestly use them.

Mr Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya

Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya is an independent journalist and former editor of The Mercury, The Witness and Sowetan and a senior journalist at many other mainstream South African newspapers.

f.moya@jesuitinstitute.org.za @fikelelom
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