Why the news needs to be good

The Queen rarely makes comment on matters of public debate, but a few weeks ago she gave a message of support to the British newspaper industry, praising traditional media outlets.  She said that “having trusted, reliable sources of information, particularly at a time when there are so many sources competing for our attention, is vital”.  This is very important, for in our democracy we rely on trusted news sources to inform us, challenge us, investigate wrong doing, and hold governments and public services to account.

The importance of a reliable and free press was brought home to me recently as I watched a particularly harrowing report on the BBC News at Ten from inside a hospital in the Yemen where there are almost no medical or nursing staff left to cope with the health pandemic.  On top of that, many wards and their equipment have been destroyed as a result of the brutal civil war in the country.

As the report ended, it dawned on me that I take for granted that reports like this, and those from other dangerous places will be there for us all to see on almost a daily basis.   Journalists, camera crews, interpreters and others put their own lives in jeopardy so that you and I can see and hear what is happening right across the world.  

It is all too rare for us to appreciate what they do.  Indeed journalists are often attacked - especially on social media - if what they report or say doesn't chime with what individuals or groups believe or the latest round of political correctness.   So it was deeply troubling to read a report that David Dimbleby, the former host of Question Time, has called for a proper process to appoint the (new BBC) chairman and accused Downing Street of trying bring the corporation “to heel”.

In the past few years there has been a huge growth of fake news, and mis-information, often aided and abetted by spin doctors and public relations consultants, as well as by criminals working on ever more sophisticated scams.   Truth and truthfulness are eminently disposable.

It is fundamental to Christian belief that true truth both exists and actually matters.  After all, as the Bible puts it - the truth sets us free - in whatever area of life we look.  And Jesus claimed to be truth embodied in himself… ‘I am the Way, the Truth and the Life’.

Commitment to truth in a world where truth rarely matters is a key reason why Christian people must ensure that we have a high view of the authority of Scripture alongside the privilege of having the Gospel spelled out to us in words and in Jesus Christ himself - The Word.   The gospel is not only good news; it is true and reliable good news from the very centre of heaven.  It is not fake news, nor does it deal in half truths or untruths.  We cannot re-shape it in our own image by Facebook, Instagram or TikTok.

The very fact that I listen and pay attention to News at Ten shows I value and trust what its journalists and presenters bring to our TV screens every night.  It may not be perfect (what is?), but a great deal of care and rigour is put into making it as authoritative and informative as possible.  Indeed online, every news page has a link to ‘Why you can trust BBC news / the BBC.' 

Truth based journalism matters, as the Queen made clear by her statement.  But so does truth based evangelism, and truth based analysis and comment by Christian people of what is happening around us locally, as well as across God’s world.   

Yet I sense an ever increasing need to take ever greater care of how my views, opinions and practices are shaped in a world where the forces of fakery and trickery are ever more plausible and alluring.  I sense a need to make sure that my mental and spiritual diet is not a tasty mixture, even by default, of political preferences, acquired prejudices, half truths, advertising, peer pressures, or even traditional Christian thinking.  A very different diet is best for me – and you… perhaps best summed up by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Philippians…Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Very Rev Dr Norman Hamilton is a retired Presbyterian minister, former Moderator of the General Assembly, and Chair of Contemporary Christianity. Please note that the statements and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Contemporary Christianity.

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