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from issue no. 10 - 2008

Reflections on television

The question of whether speeches should be addressed more to minds than hearts is ill posed. The key is not to bore and leave in one’s hearers the urge to think about one or, at most, two simple concepts

Giulio Andreotti

Giulio Andreotti during a policy forum in the ’seventies

Giulio Andreotti during a policy forum in the ’seventies

I often hear myself asked the question whether, compared to the past, I feel improvement or otherwise around me. The answer is not easy. In many ways progress is undeniable. It’s enough to consider the scale and immediacy of information coming from television. What was once transmitted by mail and, later, via telephone and telegraph, is now immediately broadcast in what is called real time.
There is, however, the danger that an excess of light involves: it does not enlighten but blinds.
The coordination between school education and this home training, so to speak, needs to be well studied. At school teaching takes place through thinking, whereas on television the continuous series of impulses certainly does not facilitate any deepening of thought.
The more so when often we see and hear not in the quiet calm of our home, but in public places or (on the radio) driving the car.
That it is a step forward, however, is indisputable, and without unnecessary fixed ideas, it should be made use of in the best possible way. I don’t know, for example, if it has a significant audience, but the hour of catechism broadcast in Italy on Saturday afternoons has certainly an extraordinary potential impact. Of course, in addition to content, the technique of exposition counts for much.
I recall the comment that Cardinal Spellman made in the context, underscoring the immense catechetical possibilities, so to speak, of this... home catechism. In the early postwar years Father Mariano had great popularity on television through his lively and attractive conversations.
Apart from the primary importance of what is said into the microphone, the method is important.
I have recalled on other occasions the perfectionism of Giancarlo Pajetta in the use of the quarter-hour radio time assigned to each party. He had gone to elocution school, which to us seemed – wrongly – to be almost irreverent.
Of course, times change. Speaking techniques aimed at moving the audience have been abandoned. The aim, quite rightly, is to spread essential, easily perceivable ideas. Personally, I struggle to accept this mercantile concept of our political messages. But it is undeniable that that is how it is.
When I had just begun in politics, I learned that it was necessary to prepare a few sentences for opening and closing at rallies. We had gone to learn from a religious orator who had great renown: Cardinal Carlo Salotti. Those who did not go through this humble apprenticeship were unable to catch the attention of the public. They say – but I don’t know if it was true – that some speakers had a “stooge” in the crowd who when he noticed the hearers becoming bored would break in with a pre-agreed interruption to wake the audience up.
And for that matter even in churches there was considerable variety in the preachers. It wasn’t so much the importance of the content but the modulation of voice and the technique of retaining attention. The most famous preacher of the ’thirties was the Jesuit father Galileo Venturini. One was charmed by his manner of expressing himself, but what counted most was that one went out with one or two basic ideas that led to long reflection.
The almost theatrical musicality of the oratory of some preachers went out of fashion. A spell-binding preacher told me one day that it was necessary to speak not only to people’s minds but to their hearts.
Problems of this kind occurred for me at the beginning of the postwar life of the political parties. It was very different from contact with students from my platform as chairman of the Federation of Catholic University Students. I realized as much at once and was grateful for that essential reminder of diversity.
The question of whether speeches should be addressed more to minds than hearts is ill posed. The key is not to bore and to leave in one’s hearers the urge to think about one or, at most, two simple concepts.

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