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Pope Francis Denounces Fake News

Pope Francis book on "Fake News", is pictured in front of St. Peter's Basilica, in Rome, Jan. 24, 2018.

Pope Francis denounced "fake news" as evil and urged reporters to rediscover the "dignity of journalism" and search for the truth.

"Spreading fake news can serve to advance specific goals, influence political decisions and serve economic interests, the pope wrote in an annual message released Wednesday in advance of the Roman Catholic Church's World Communications Day on May 13.

The document was the first released by a pope on the topic and came after months of ongoing debate about the effect of fake news stories on the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

The pope's message cited the difficulty people have of differentiating erroneous information from the truth due to their lack of exposure to information outlets that offer different opinions and perspectives.

"Disinformation thus thrives on the absence of healthy confrontation with other sources of information that could effectively challenge prejudices and generate constructive dialogue; instead, it risks turning people into unwilling accomplices in spreading biased and baseless ideas," the pope wrote.

Francis called on journalists to pursue information that is "truthful and opposed to falsehoods, rhetorical slogans, and sensational headlines."

The pontiff has had a contentious relationship with the news media, often complaining about what he has considered biased news reporting.

Pope Francis touches his forehead as he talks with journalists during his flight from Lima, Peru, to Rome, Italy, Jan. 21, 2018.
Pope Francis touches his forehead as he talks with journalists during his flight from Lima, Peru, to Rome, Italy, Jan. 21, 2018.

During his recent trip to Chile and Peru, media criticism of him was renewed for having appointed a bishop accused by victims of being participating in a cover-up for Chile's most notorious pedophile priest. He was then heavily criticized in the Chilean media for accusing the victims of slander.

Francis touted educational efforts to make social media users aware of disinformation, as well as institutional and legal campaigns to expose those who use technology to hide their identities so they can anonymously plant lies to the public.

"None of us can feel exempted from the duty of countering these falsehoods," he said.

The Catholic Church has been observing World Communications Day since 1967. The release of the pope's message on January 24, coincides with the feast day of St. Francis de Sales, the patron saint of journalists.