The Deacon's Bench

Most people might not consider Pope Benedict a Great Communicator, on a par with his predecessor Pope John Paul. But as John Thavis at CNS notes, the pontiff has a deeper understanding of the media and communications, and even mentioned it in his recent encyclical:

Toward the end of his encyclical “Charity in Truth,” Pope Benedict XVI included a brief but strongly worded analysis about the “increasingly pervasive presence” of modern media and their power to serve good or immoral interests.

The two pages on communications were barely noticed in an encyclical that focused on economic issues, but they underscored the pope’s cautionary and critical approach to today’s media revolution.

In particular, the pope zeroed in on the popular assumption in the West that the penetration of contemporary media in the developing world will inevitably bring enlightenment and progress.

“Just because social communications increase the possibilities of interconnection and the dissemination of ideas, it does not follow that they promote freedom or internationalize development and democracy for all,” the pope wrote.

The pope’s critique made several important points:

— The mass media are not morally “neutral.” They are often subordinated to “economic interests intent on dominating the market” and to attempts to “impose cultural models that serve ideological and political agendas,” he said.

— The media have a huge role in shaping attitudes, a role that has been amplified by globalization. That requires careful reflection on their influence, especially when it comes to questions of ethics and the “solidarity” dimension of development, he said.

— Media have a civilizing effect when they are “geared toward a vision of the person and the common good that reflects truly universal values.” That means they need to focus on promoting human dignity, be “inspired by charity and placed at the service of truth,” he said.

Inspired by charity? That may sound overly idealistic to those familiar with some of the more popular talk-radio shows or blogs these days.

Check out the rest of Thavis’s analysis.

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