The mass media is like a mirror in which we see ouselves; it reflects to us what we are doing and what we are like. Recent issues concerning the media - the way in which the BBC has concealed in-house scandals and the state of affairs now surrounding the Press tell us that we can no longer see ourselves coherently in our media - the relationship is fractured.
The present loss of confidence in the media is really a sign of where society has got to today. We no longer know who we are. We have become so souless that neither government, nor law, nor media, is able to coherently speak for us.
Some in society want the regulation of the Press to be underpinned by law, while some in Government declare the absolute rights of free speech. Does free speech come before truth? Surely truth is the mainstay. Am I wrong?
The question about the already existing Code of Practice of the Press is very important. Should the Press observe its own Code of Practice or not? Of course it should. How else could it begin the regulate itself. However, a much more important question to ask is: upon what basis should the Code of Practice be established?
This latter question is implicit, but still unvoiced, in the current debate about this issue, for the public debate is rounding upon whether or not there should be Statutory Undepinning of the Code of Practice. If there is to be such underpinning, what concrete criteria would be used to establish it?
Here lies the problem, for there is today no agreement in society about who we are, where we should be going, or what we are meant to be doing? Our society has gone beyond itself, morally and spiritually, and the row about the media is symptomatic of this drift.
Who is there who is now in a position to help? So many dimensions of our society are either discredited, or in some way have lost that full sense of credibility which used to be afforded them. These dimensions of our society include the Church, Parliament, the Finance sector, the Media. Who then will help our souless society to underpin itself again and enable real communication between people to take place again?
I go back to an address given by Angel Suquia on 18th May 1992, the then Cardinal Archbishop of Madrid, to the Spanish Bishops. He said (this is not a quote but rather my preces of some of his address, which was given in Spanish):
Today's fundamental task could be defined as the rehabilitation of what is human. In Western Society, all the basic human points of reference, the foundation of human values and behaviour, have collapsed. There is scarcely any interest in building one's own life; fulfilment is entrusted to luck and to the entertainment industry. When we try to understand ourselves within the closed secular horizon we do not even find the foundation for our democracies. The great task then, is the reconstruction of what is human, beginning with the human being and extending to all the institutions of social life. But how will this task begin without fundamental questions being raised in the public forum? The New Evangelisation then, is the Catholic response to the present condition of our society.
The Prime Minister is set against the establishment of Statutory Underpinning of the media perhaps because, as a secularist, the question of fundamental questions being raised in the public forum is a taboo. I would say that the present clash between society and its media is a good thing precisely because it points towards fundamental questions being raised. In fact, we need a totally renewed society; a renewed media will follow.