THE EMPTY ECHO OF THE DAILY NEWS
We think the news gives us a reliable picture of what is happening out there but the truth is more elusive
I once heard a woman say that she had no time left to read the Bible after she had finished reading the daily newspaper. Where do you start with that one? Perhaps with the accuracy of a newspaper rather than with the priority of biblical truth.
In his expose of the print media, Nick Davies has taken on some powerful vested interests in his book ‘Flat Earth News’ (Vintage, 2009) but done the rest of us a favour. He has shown how the new corporate newspaper owners have cut staff while increasing output, slashing the old supply lines which used to feed information from the grass roots of society and demanding digital speed in the cause of shareholder dividend. A major consequence of these developments has been what Davies calls ‘churnalism’: the quick and passive processing of press releases claiming facts which journalists do not have the time to check. This is particularly galling for the many skilled and professional journalists who wish they had the time and space to do the necessary work of reporting. Most newspapers simply reprint or rewrite the news that wire agencies like Reuters and Associated Press (AP) supply, who themselves have experienced cutbacks which hinder their ability to find reliable and significant news. The result is media which have become an echo chamber of rumour and unsubstantiated half-truths.
Global news is just an extension of the same problem. Harvard University has calculated that the entire U.S. print and broadcast media was supporting only 141 foreign correspondents in the whole world in 2006. There are 130 countries in which Reuters and AP do not have a TV bureau and most global news is dependent on their services. The result is a highly partial and incomplete view of what is going on in the world which we take each week to be a reliable snapshot of what is actually happening out there.
This state of the media provides us with a challenge and an encouragement. The challenge may be to read less in order that we understand more. The daily news often supplies an instantaneous and unreflective view of life, while those with more time and specialist expertise can give a fresh dimension on any one issue. Most books contain no more words than the average daily newspaper - perhaps we should be quicker to browse a book shop or website for the right work to deepen our perception of events.
The encouragement comes in recognising afresh that we do not have the faintest idea what is really going on in the world. The mission of God in particular develops in the secret places and is not easily interpreted by the faithful, never mind any unbeliever called to report the world. There will be so many more signs of the coming kingdom of God in the world than we are made aware of as we struggle with a daily diet of depressing events re-heated for us by the news rooms.
Just recently, in his magisterial work on the continent, the Director of the Royal African Society Richard Dowden said:
‘In most of Africa the churches have delivered more real development to the people than all the governments, the World Bank and aid agencies combined. Africa’s network of priests, nuns and church workers are one of Africa’s most effective organisations. When states like Congo, Ghana, Angola, Mozambique and Uganda collapsed, the self-sufficient parishes used their moral authority to provide protection. Like the monasteries in Europe during the Dark Ages, they kept civilisation going’.
When did you last hear a statement like that made in daily print?
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