One of the great benefits of the Reformation in Scotland was that people were taught to read and to think. A school in every parish eventually had a massive impact on Scottish life.
It is important for Christians today to learn to read. Too often we sit back and let others tells us stories and simply accept their tales without reading what is going on. Read not just the words or images, but the underlying messages.
People buy newspapers knowing full well their political and social bias. The reader of the Guardian is unlikely to vote consistently in the same way as the reader of the Daily Mail. Neither are they likely to hold similar positions on abortion rights, homosexuality or multiculturalism. When it comes to papers we do not wish our worldview to be expanded or challenged, we wish our prejudices to be reinforced.
The main medium shaping our culture today however, is television and despite the internet most people still look to television, particularly news and current affairs programmes, for information on events around the world. What we overlook is that television is no more value free than newspapers, or blogs.
Andrew Marr, no Christian obscurantist, has said that the BBC “Is a publicly-funded urban organisation with an abnormally large proportion of younger people, of people in ethnic minorities and almost certainly of gay people, compared with the population at large.” All this he said “creates an innate liberal bias inside the BBC.” Working for the BBC Marr’s analysis was focused on the Corporation but applies to the independent broadcasters just as much.
The “innate bias” is important because television not only reports the news but also makes it. A significant factor in David Cameron becoming leader of the Conservative Party in 2005 a mere four years after entering Parliament was the reporting of the speeches he and David Davis gave at the Party conference. Cameron, the progressive metropolitan PR professional with close contacts in the media, was able to play the news media and was more congenial to their world view than Davis the blunt right wing Yorkshireman.
Even entertainment shapes public opinion. Think of how much soaps have done to promote acceptance of homosexuality. Homosexuals are almost invariably portrayed in a sympathetic light. Then think of how Christians are portrayed on soaps, from batty Dot Cotton on Eastenders to Ashley the wimpy vicar in Emmerdale, hardly a normal one amongst them.
Television, rather than exposing the progressive establishment to searching examination is an integral part of that liberal establishment and promotes its values. Those who hold to biblical principles should be aware that television broadcasting, the serious news and current affairs programmes as much as the soaps and ‘entertainment’ shows, has its own agenda.
When we watch a play by Jimmy McGovern we know we are not going to get an unbiased take on life in the army. We don’t go to a Ken Loach film expecting a dispassionate view of the Irish troubles or to Mike Leigh for a cool headed exploration of the complexities of abortion. Although there are those whose knowledge of Sir William Wallace is confined to Braveheart and who think Attenborough’s Ghandi portrayed what happened in India most of us are aware we should be sceptical when it comes to dramas. In dramas the astute expect an angle, are we as sceptical when we watch the news?
Christians must become more adept at ‘reading’ what is actually being purveyed under the surface, especially when it is ‘unbiased reporting.’ We must learn to be just as astute when we watch news as when we watch Coronation Street. Ministers should get back to teaching their congregations how to read.