Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Myanmar, president of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, hailed the role of media, especially Catholic media, in promoting peace.
“I am glad that SIGNIS raises awareness on the role of the media in propping conflict or promoting peace,” said the cardinal at the SIGNIS World Congress in Seoul on Wednesday, August 17.
SIGNIS is the World Catholic Association for Communication, an organization whose mission is to “help transform cultures in the light of the Gospel by promoting human dignity, justice and reconciliation.”
This year’s gathering, which is taking place at Sogang University in Seoul until August 19, carries the theme “Peace in the Digital World.”
“I am greatly enthused by the gathering of all men and women of good will, shepherding the world towards the greener pastures of peace in the digital world,” Cardinal Bo said in his opening statement.
He said working for peace “is an ambitious project in a world spiraling into self mutilating discourses of war,” but he said that as followers of Christ “we shall never bend our knees to the arrogance of violence or threat of Evil.”
“We know that a suffocating darkness can be driven out by lighting a lamp of hope,” said Cardinal Bo.
The Asian Church leader said that “in an interconnected world that has become a digital village, the media has a robust role.”
He noted that since the Vietnam war, which the cardinal said “was dubbed the first Television War which had great implications for ending that conflict,” the media has been playing “a great role in conflicts and peace making.”
“Totalitarian governments had used the media in history to manufacture consent for wars with disastrous consequences,” he said, adding that wars in the Middle East “were a grim reminder the media could become a culpable criminal in geo strategic conflicts.”
Cardinal Bo said that with widespread access to the Internet, “social media has ushered in an utopia and dystopia” that “hatred spirals out of control.”
He said Facebook has been accused of collusion by human rights groups in the conflict and displacement of minorities in his home country Myanmar in 2017.
He said Twitter “has become a virtual hell where evil concoct narratives of hatred, digital lynching that lead to real lynching.”
“Modern war starts in most cases with the bites and bits of social media by providing anonymity to purveyors of hatred,” said the Church leader.
“Religious conflicts are configured and inflamed with the touch of digital screens,” he said, adding that digital media “is a power for good and a power for disaster.”
He likened digital media to fire “that could be used to cook life giving food or wild fires that destroy millions of acres of forests.” He said digital media “is a source of evil and good.”
Cardinal Bo said the choice is always in the users’ hands.
“Long before digital media was known, the book of Deuteronomy challenged human beings to choose life; in a surprisingly contemporary caution: ‘I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live.’”
The cardinal said it is a “tall order” and a “great challenge.”
“I am glad that SIGNIS has taken up this challenge as an opportunity to initiate a worldwide discussion on the process of peace in a digital world,” he told participants of the global gathering of Catholic communicators.
“Every bite and bit counts,” he said.