A pilgrimage is a journey or search of moral or spiritual significance in the context of one's own learning, beliefs, or faith. It can be a physical journey to a particular place, or a metaphysical journey in search of insight. It can be a revisiting of spiritual roots or a first visit to the faith domain of a friend.
As the World Council of Churches has underlined, pilgrimages of different kinds take place in a world crying out for the political and social engagement of Christians and all people of good will. On the way there are many challenges to the gospel values of justice, peace, and abundant life.
Faithful media practitioners are familiar with other pilgrimages and other challenges. When they apply principles of justice and peace to their work, they speak of enabling all people everywhere to express themselves individually and collectively without hindrance or censorship. And when media practitioners go on a pilgrimage, it is likely to be to places that extol the virtues of a free press, like the Newseum in Washington D.C., or to one of the many museums of memory that have been set up in post-dictatorship countries.
World Press Freedom Day 2015 has as its theme “Let Journalism Thrive! Towards Better Reporting, Gender Equality, & Media Safety in the Digital Age.” It stresses the need for quality journalism in an age of ever increasing concentration of media ownership, state surveillance and censorship, and the ubiquity of social media and citizen journalism.
It calls for gender equality in the form of increased participation and access of women to expression and decision-making in and through the media and new technologies of communication. It encourages gender balance in news reporting, which the World Association for Christian Communication (WACC) has advocated for more than 20 years.
The WPFD theme calls for greater protection for investigative journalists, and for legal definitions of the boundaries between the right to privacy and the need for authorities to justify surveillance. It is worth recalling that recently the human rights watchdog Freedom House warned that worldwide freedom of the press has declined sharply in the past decade.
One driving factor in this decline is new, restrictive laws against the media. Another is media owners’ attempts to manipulate news content to serve their political or business interests, raising serious questions of ethics.
No pilgrimage of justice and peace can afford to ignore the urgent call to strengthen press freedoms issued by the World Forum on Free Media at its meeting in Tunis in March 2015. Participants affirmed that democratic information and communication are fundamental to the exercise of democracy and essential tools in the struggle to ensure respect for human rights.
As the joint WCC-WACC Busan Statement on Communication (2012) noted, the world is a very different place from when the World Council of Churches addressed the issue of communication at its Uppsala (1968) and Vancouver (1983) Assemblies. “Today, people everywhere, even children, share their stories through media platforms – ranging from Internet-based social networks to the initiatives of citizen journalists – that are more powerful than those available to churches, governments and media conglomerates 30 years ago.”
Globalization and technological innovation have transformed political, economic, social, and cultural structures. Yet, urgent questions of justice and equality still need to be addressed all over the world, not least in countries suffering repression, conflict and poverty, but also in the world’s more affluent nations where exploitation and repression are rife.
In the light of World Press Freedom Day, a pilgrimage of communication would identify how freedom of opinion and expression can contribute to greater justice and peace. It would strengthen the ability of poor and marginalized people to communicate their hopes and aspirations.
As an integral part of a pilgrimage of justice and peace, a journey towards communication for all would help restore voice and visibility to vulnerable, disadvantaged and excluded people in a spirit of genuine solidarity, hope and love.
As Martin Luther King Jr. memorably pointed out in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail” (August 1963), “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”
Let’s celebrate World Press Freedom Day 2015 by calling on people of all faiths and none to join a global pilgrimage to promote the right of everyone to communicate freely, to restore balance where there is bias, and to do their utmost to advance the cause of justice and peace.