The opinion-forming role of the media in a democratic society is so great that it is used to being called the “fourth power”. The information activity of the media—while maintaining the independence guaranteed by the national and international law—serves as a tool for social control of the authorities. The importance of free media for the proper functioning of the state and democratic society is demonstrated by the fact that their independence is regulated by basic legal acts. In accordance with Art. 14 of the Polish Constitution “the Republic of Poland ensures freedom of the press and other means of social communication”. In turn, according to Art. 54 “(1) the freedom to express opinions, to acquire and to disseminate information shall be ensured to everyone; (2) preventive censorship of the means of social communication and the licensing of the press shall be forbidden”. Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights ensures—on an international level—the right to have one’s own opinions unhindered and the right to express opinions freely. This right ensures “the freedom to seek, receive and disseminate any information and opinions regardless of national borders, orally, in writing or in print, in the form of a work of art or by any other means of one’s own choice”. “The freedom to hold opinions, and to receive and disseminate information and ideas without the interference of public authorities and regardless of national borders” is also contained in Art. 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (wherein both the first and second treaties allow that freedom to be restricted, among others, due to the respect for the rights and protection of the good name of others and for the maintenance of state security, public order or morality).
The freedom of mass media is linked to information pluralism—indispensable in a democratic society, but burdensome for the individual seeking specific information. In particular, the Internet provides access to numerous, highly distributed and therefore difficult-to-verify sources of knowledge. This phenomenon, called information noise or information smug, makes it difficult to reach reliable, credible information in the multitude of reports and comments, especially with regard to events that are highly publicly opinion-based and cause great agitation. A striking example of such a disordered excess is the so-called infodemia, namely, the severity of information on the coronavirus pandemic. A large number of fake news published on this subject, that is, false information of a pseudoscientific nature, which—for an average recipient unfamiliar with medicine may be difficult to verify—should be regarded as its dangerous element.
Issues strongly related to religious freedom have also lately been among the topics arousing powerful emotions. The legitimacy of the pandemic-motivated restrictions on religious worship, the alleged influence of the Church on political decisions or court judgments taking place in the country, and finally contesting Christian values and authorities justified by the crimes or moral scandals revealed within the Church are just examples of matters strongly affecting the public opinion—related to the freedom of conscience, religion and belief. Fake news based on the presentation of arbitrarily selected data (e.g. chosen legal articles, fragments of reports or certain aspects of the Church’s teaching) are easy to find here as well. Meanwhile, the full exercise of the freedom to possess and express beliefs requires having reliable information on the basis of which one can form one’s own thoughtful opinions. Access to relevant, trustworthy information is also a necessary condition for a full-fledged participation in social dialogue.
For this reason, we have prepared some guidelines which might come handy in navigating the maze of information:
 R. Tadeusiewicz, Społeczność Internetu, Warszawa 2002, 120-124.
Author: The Laboratory of Religious Freedom team