How does the media impact our perception of what is true? How does opinion differ from truth?

“No one is bound to reveal the truth to someone who does not have the right to know it” (CCC, no. 2489). The security of others, their right to privacy, and a respect for the common good are reasons for keeping silent or being discreet in our language concerning matters that should not be disclosed. It is also for these reasons that gossiping is a sinful violation of the privacy of others.

Professionals such as politicians, doctors, lawyers, psychologists, and others in positions where confidences are entrusted should preserve confidentiality, unless there is a grave and proportionate reason for divulging the information. The same is true about ordinary personal relationships in which confidences are shared.

The Media

In our culture, the communications media hold an influential place in disseminating information, forming attitudes, and motivating behavior. Technological advances are increasing the role of the media and its capacity to shape public opinion. “The information provided by the media is at the service of the common good. Society has a right to information based on truth, freedom, justice, and solidarity” (CCC, no. 2494). In the assembling and publishing of news, the moral law and the lawful rights and human dignity of men and women should be followed.

The requirements of justice and charity must guide communications just as much as other public institutions. Those who undertake to form public opinion need to be governed by these principles. Human solidarity is one of the positive effects of media communications when a commitment to a right-minded policy is followed—one that supports a free circulation of ideas that advances knowledge and people’s respect for each other. Mutually respectful dialogue also aids the quest for truth.

Truth and the Op-Ed Page

The more our culture has moved away from acceptance of objective truth, the more it has moved toward the culture of opinions. Each day, newspapers give us a diet of opinions on their op-ed page. Talk shows on television have turned the sharing of opinions into a national pastime. Editors and talk show hosts strive to give us a range of opinions that stretch from one end of the spectrum to another. At the high end of these presentations, experts and scholars are recruited to offer us their best current research. At another level, people are simply enlisted to share their thoughts and feelings publicly on any number of social, moral, and political matters. Sometimes debate degenerates into expressions of hatred.

Though the intuition remains that there is really such a thing as objective truth, it tends to be lost in a marathon of inconclusive discussions. As a result, some spend valuable time sharing only feelings or uninformed opinions. Much of what passes for truth is the effort to justify individual behavior. In its unsettling form, this generates an attitude of skepticism and even suspicion about any truth claims. Thus objective truth is considered unattainable.

In this kind of cultural environment, how can we speak of the invitation of the Eighth Commandment to tell the truth and avoid lying? Speaking the truth is the opposite of lying. The distinction between lying and truth-telling presupposes that there is a truth that can be told. Although a real problem is that some people lie, there is also the related issue of skepticism about the possibility of knowing truth.

The best way to step outside the constriction of these biases is through study, love, and practice grounded in faith. The Church never ceases to urge, “Know the truth. Love the truth. Live the truth.” And the truth is Jesus Christ.

You can read more from the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults, order your own copy, or read questions about it at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops website.

Copyright © 2006, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington, D.C. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright holder.