Pope encourages media skepticism not cynicism

POPE-COMMUNICATIONS May-23-2008 (600 words) xxxi

Pope encourages media professors to teach skepticism, not cynicism

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Students preparing for a career in communications must learn to be skeptical, especially when the public good is at stake, but they also must be helped to avoid becoming cynical, Pope Benedict XVI told communications professors.

“Nourish and reward that passion for truth and goodness that is always strong in the young. Help them give themselves fully to the search for truth,” the pope said in a May 23 address to participants in a meeting sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Social Communications.

The meeting brought together professors and staff members from communications departments at Catholic universities and institutes from around the world to discuss the specifically Catholic mission of their educational programs, the best ways to respond to rapid changes in the field of communications and how to educate future media professionals in ethical values.

Pope Benedict told the professors that every form of communication — from teaching to prayer — using every means from the human voice to a computer is a reflection of the fact that human beings were created to communicate, to create relationships and to grow “in knowledge, wisdom and love.”

Obviously, he said, if communication is to be effective it must be based on truth.

“A communicator can attempt to inform, to educate, to entertain, to convince, to comfort; but the final worth of any communication lies in its truthfulness,” he said.

The “passion for truth” that communications students and professionals must have and develop “can be well served by a certain methodological skepticism, particularly in matters affecting the public interest,” Pope Benedict said.

However, the pope said, students need guidance to ensure their questioning is not so distorted that it becomes “a relativistic cynicism in which all claims to truth and beauty are routinely rejected or ignored.”

As mediabecome more and more important in people’s daily lives, he said, helping people learn how to judge the ethical content they are accessing and teaching future professionals the necessity of always upholding the truth take on even greater urgency.

“It also is necessary to promote justice, solidarity and respect in every circumstance for the value and dignity of each person, who has a right not to be harmed in that which concerns his private life,” the pope said.

Pope Benedict offered particular praise to the religious orders and bishops’ conferences that have established Catholic universities in developing countries.

He said more attention must be paid to the fact that as new means of communications enable people to share information more quickly, millions of poor people have no access and are being left further and further behind the rest of the world economically and socially.

In addition, he said, communicators must be on guard against a form of global communications that “weakens or eliminates traditional customs and local cultures, especially those that have fortified family and social values, love, solidarity and respect for life.”

In looking at the Catholic identity of the universities, Pope Benedict said that the percentage of Catholic students is not the point.

“It is most of all a question of conviction,” he said. “Catholic identity lies first of all in the decision to entrust oneself — intellect and will, mind and heart — to God.”

Those who study and teach communications are in a privileged place to help not only their students, but also their local churches to find more effective ways to proclaim the truth and “make known to all people the good news of the love of God,” Pope Benedict said.

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