Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of June 9, 2008
Media must be 'word warriors'
Ethicist tells Catholic journalists to give people the words they need to protect their dignity
By DEBORAH GYAPONG
"I'm sometimes deeply dismayed by language religious people use in the public square."
- Margaret Somerville
Somerville said she once suggested that if doctors should not be involved in euthanasia perhaps a specially trained group of lawyers could do it.
The response was a horrified "You can't have lawyers killing people," she said. This shift in the language helped people grasp what was at stake in euthanasia - killing people, not helping people die.
But Somerville warned against using overtly religious language.
"I'm sometimes deeply dismayed by language religious people use in the public square," she said. Not only is the language alienating; it makes it easier for opponents to dismiss the arguments as merely religious. A good secular or nonreligious argument can alter perspectives.
Though people are interested in spiritual and religious topics, they "need to be surprised by new, non-cliched insights," she said.
She also urged respectful responses, even toward opponents who are disrespectful. She cringes when religious people attack their opponents.
"Good ethics require good facts," she said. Lies and deliberate omissions are never ethically acceptable.
Studies show people trust the media less than they trust government or business, so Somerville urged the building of trust.
Members of the media must ask themselves, "Who are we trying to persuade?" she said.
Even though Catholic media professionals appeal to a Catholic audience, those consumers also need to be equipped with good nonreligious arguments. How information is framed determines how it is received, she said.
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