We need to be “hyper-vigilant” about our news sources and should look beyond the mainstream. CNS photo/Tyrone Siu, Reuters

Sr. Helena Burns: Truth and the world according to media

By 
  • January 26, 2022

When I give Media Literacy workshops to folks, I often ask: What’s the first thing you think of when you think of “the media”? The overwhelming majority think: the news.

Of course, the term “media” is actually quite expansive and includes five categories (according to one of my astute Media Lit profs): content, technology, business, institutions and audiences. If you’re surprised by “audiences” being part and parcel of “media,” it’s because audiences have way more power and control over media than they realize.

Do you look to the news media for truth? If you answered affirmatively, we need to talk. In a free country (where the media is not state-controlled), journalistic standards are such that reporters should be impartially, disinterestedly seeking out and delivering the truth as best they can, serving up their unadorned findings to us.

However. Over time, news outlets have been bought out by larger and larger media and business concerns with profit motives. This is a problem. Advertisers basically support our ability to get news that’s free of charge. And what wares, pray tell, are these advertisers hawking? Is it possible that advertisers might be shaping the content of the news so that we, the audience, feel we must absolutely and urgently avail ourselves of their products? Did you know that in the United States, a representative of Big Pharma sits on the board of almost all major news outlets?

As a news junkie who has enjoyed devouring a physical newspaper every day since I was 12 years old, I am not trashing all the valiant news organizations and news people who have kept me informed and often risked their lives to tell important stories through the years. But the times they are a-changing. Do you notice?

There are only five corporate behemoths (it used to be six) that own virtually all the commercial news and media produced in the world. Once fairly trustworthy national and even local news sources now parrot the same talking points in unison. The sacred trust of the fourth estate has been compromised.

So to whom can we turn? I personally sample a large smattering of more or less independent news and information channels all over the Internet. Don’t laugh because it’s the Internet. The Internet can mean you and me and a microphone reporting about our neighbourhood. That’s real. That’s honest. And by information channels, I mean folks who are “boots on the ground” in whatever sphere I’m interested in.

The only problem with this citizen journalism today — besides obvious frauds and click-baiters — is ever-increasing censorship. Did you know that Twitter teamed up with AP and Reuters in 2021 to suppress what they deem “misinformation”? Could it be that misinformation means whatever might harm their bottom line? Did you know that most “fact-checking” entities are set-up and paid for by platforms that embrace special interests and special interest groups? Did you know award-winning scientists, doctors and researchers are being silenced and cancelled across all media because they are trying to actually “do science” the way it’s supposed to be done: by dialoguing and wrestling with the data, and because they are questioning the monolithic narratives around the pandemic?

We need to be hyper-vigilant regarding news media today. Sample alternative news outlets (both secular and Catholic). I’m a big YouTube fan when it comes to news. WION out of India brings a fresh global perspective. 2nachecki is Africa reporting on itself and correcting false narratives. And who doesn’t love Rebel News Canada, UK and Australia? Often, they are the only media who show up to newsworthy protests. And as much as I favour these courageous, plucky news correspondents, all media must be subjected to critical thinking and Media/News Literacy.

We don’t need to be suspicious (a no-no in Media Literacy), but simply intelligent and questioning. If something doesn’t add up, if something smells funny, if something doesn’t make sense—don’t just swallow it down. Investigate further. Talk back to your TV or media device. Take another look at what has conveniently been labeled “conspiracy theory.” It ain’t a theory if it’s documented and unfolding right before your eyes. Believe your eyes.

Lately, I have been absolutely struck by and stuck on this passage from 2 Thessalonians 2:11 about the End Times where God says that He will send a “powerful delusion.” Why? Because we didn’t love God? Didn’t follow His commandments? Because we were bad? No. Because we “didn’t love the truth.”

(Sr. Burns, fsp, is a Daughter of St. Paul. She holds a Masters in Media Literacy Education and studied screenwriting at UCLA. Hellburns.com Twitter: @srhelenaburns.)

Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.