Pope Francis says governments and political leaders across the world are following the route to becoming dictatorships by seeking to destroy a free press.
“Dictatorships, all of them, began like this, by adulterating communication, by putting communication in the hands of an unscrupulous person, of a government without scruples,” said the Latin American Pope, who was leader of the Jesuits in Argentina during the military dictatorship of the 1970s, during an early morning homily in the Casa Santa Marta.
The Pope was reflecting on the story of Naboth, in the first Book of Kings 21, who refuses to hand over his vineyard to King Ahab. Jezebel, Ahab’s wife, then hatches a plan to falsely accuse Naboth of treason which ends in him being stoned to death.
This, Francis said during Mass, is how "many heads of state or government" proceed "after destroying both a person and a situation with slander". They are then judged and condemned.
“This method is used even today, in many countries: the destruction of free communication,” the Pope said.
"For example, think about this: there is a media law, a communications law, that law is erased; the whole communications apparatus is given to a company, to a society that slanders, tells falsehoods, weakens democratic life.”
He went on: “Then the judges come to judge these weakened institutions, these destroyed people, they are condemned, and thus a dictatorship moves forward.”
Francis did not cite specific examples but has issued a strong condemnation of fake news, a phenomenon he has found himself a victim of at various points during his papacy. And he has repeatedly urged people to refrain from gossiping which he has likened to terrorism
His homily today will also have been coloured by his experience of Argentina’s Dirty War where, following a 1976 military coup by the military, tens of thousands of dissidents were hunted down and killed by the ruling regime. These included writers, journalists, artists, trade unionists and anyone considered opposed to military’s authoritarian and neoliberal economic rule.
"Many people, many countries [have been] destroyed by evil and slanderous dictatorships,” said Francis.
“Think, for example, of the dictatorships of the last century. Think of the persecution of the Jews, for example. A libellous communication against the Jews, and they ended up in Auschwitz because they did not deserve to live. Oh ... it's a horror, but a horror that happens today: in small societies, in people and in many countries. The first step is to appropriate communication, and after destruction, judgment, and death.”