Pope Francis calls press freedom vital while paying tribute to fallen journalists

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By Michael-Ross Fiorentino  with Reuters
Pope Francis attends a meeting with the members of Italian FPA
Pope Francis attends a meeting with the members of Italian FPA   -   Copyright  Vatican Media/­Handout via REUTERS

In an address to the Foreign Press Association at the Vatican on Saturday, Pope Francis urged journalists to reject fake news and continue reporting on the troubling conditions of suffering people who no longer make it into daily headlines.

Francis paid tribute to fallen journalists, saying media freedom is a key indicator of a country’s health.

Francis listened as the association’s president, Patricia Thomas of Associated Press Television, talked about journalists killed, imprisoned, wounded or threatened in their line of work.

Thomas mentioned Lyra Mckee, who was shot dead while covering a riot in Northern Ireland in March, Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, who died in a car bomb in 2017, and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last year.

“Freedom of the press and of expression is an important indicator of the state of a country’s health,” the pope said. “Let’s not forget that one of the first things dictatorships do is remove freedom of the press or mask it, not leaving it free.”

“We need journalists who are on the side of victims, on the side of those who are persecuted, on the side of who is excluded, cast aside, discriminated against,” he said.

Francis urged the media to not lose interest in tragedies even when they no longer make headlines and mentioned by name the suffering of the Rohingya who he said: "have been forgotten and continue to suffer."

Nearly one million Rohingya Muslims from mostly Buddhist Myanmar have fled to Bangladesh, most following a Myanmar military-led crackdown in 2017 that U.N. investigators have said was conducted with “genocidal intent”. Myanmar has denied almost all allegations of atrocities.