By Peter Knox
Before the days of Photoshop it took enormous skill to alter reality. Specialised graphic artists were employed by the Russian government (and no doubt many others), to alter the historical record, to purge photographs of unwanted characters too close to the chief protagonist. Propagandists required that the masses received the correct message, and in the early days of photographic reportage it was very important to shape public opinion with the right images. To give just one example, famously, there is the photograph of Stalin walking along the Volga Canal beside the Soviet chief of police, Nikolai Yezhov. Subsequent published versions of the photograph have Yezhov completely removed from the picture. With the digital revolution, techniques may have changed to alter images. Photoshop and its equivalents are now the tools of choice for image editing.
This is not revisioning history. This is an attempt to falsify history. It was dangerous to be too close to any leader during the early Soviet period. If your thinking did not co-incide 100% with the leaders’, you became an ‘enemy of the people’ and stood the risk of being airbrushed out of history. Often with the help of 10 grams of lead. Of course this did not begin and end with the Soviet era. We have seen the same recently with insiders of the North Korean regime.
We are all aware of ‘fake news’ since the term was coined recently in the social media. My mother sent me a digital image recently of the charred remains, supposedly of hundreds of Christians after a Boko Haram massacre on a village in Northern Nigeria. It turned out that the image was of the vicitms of an oil-tanker explosion in a village in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is so easy to be misled. And it takes so much time to check one’s sources. We generally trust what we receive from trusted sources.
Which is why one can even come across a Masters’ thesis questionnaire in Africa asking whether homosexual persons should be admitted in the Church. Where else could this possibly be taken as a real question, than in societies in which the leadership have airbrushed homosexual people out of the picture? A prominent African churchman said in 2013 that he knew no homosexuals… and therefore could not be accused of homophobia. Is it because they are too close to the leaders, or because they are somehow perceived as a threat to the ‘party line’ or are an inconvenient truth? Or because one doesn’t want to be contaminated by association?
Some of our leading academics believe that Africa saved the Second Synod on the Family by not allowing divorce and remarriage and same-sex marriage to dominate the agenda. These are not daily African concerns. Fair enough. But when it is denied that these non-standard family arrangements even exist in Africa, that is ‘fake news.’ That is photoshopping the true image of African society. It does not serve the truth, and prevents enlightened pastoral programmes being put in place. It means that non-conventional families continue to suffer from neglect in the Catholic Church and look for their support elsewhere.