We get all of our information through some form of media. Most people feel there is a bias and have a degree of skepticism. Reactions to media we do not agree with can be intense. Some think there is a subversive conspiracy. We may think a few powerful people seek to control society. The long and sorted history of the media is written with clarity in a book I have been reading called The Social History of the Media. Briggs and Burke trace both the history of the media and its impact on society. Many people have a concern about government over the media and government by the media.
Those who fear government by the media would confirm their suspicion is a recent story about the BBC. Jimmy Savile, a popular media personality in England who worked in the BBC, died on October 29, 2011, but he left behind a huge scandal. Allegations have been raised that he sexually abused 300 children. He has been called one of England’s worse sex offenders. After Savile’s death, accusations surfaced against the BBC for covering it up and ignoring the problem.
During the rise of Nazism, the BBC was the voice of freedom to Europe. (197) Today the AP news recites its influence; “The BBC boasts 10 national TV channels in addition to regional U.K. programming, 10 national radio stations, 40 local radio stations and a website which averages 3.6 billion hits a month.” The BBC became a force that governed popular opinion. Briggs and Burke point out that the press “did more than reflect concerns of society: its shaped them”. The BBC’s founding charter boasts; “trust is at the foundation of the BBC: we are independent, impartial and honest.” During its first years of operation the government required them to keep out of all controversial broadcasting (199). More recently, they fought government interference with both Tony Blair and Margret Thatcher and refused to compromise what it saw as fair and unbiased news. But now its public trust has been declining. The question it raises is, “Is the influence of the Media a bad thing?”
In totalitarian regimes control of the airwaves is used to shape public opinion in favor of national politics. A recent story unpacks the importance for Chinese authorities to control the media. They are currently putting pressure on businesses to install censoring devises for Internet use. Business leaders are hesitant. The Chinese government struggles to shape information and block antigovernment messages while at the same time not distancing itself from the young upcoming business leaders. Government over the media is even a concern in the “freedom of the press” western counties. There are just some stories that do not make the U.S. media. President Obama prohibited China from buying a wind farm that is adjacent to a navy base. In the U.S. the press barely noticed this. The suspicion of either government control of the media or media controlling public opinion continues.
Government over the media and government by the media is a constant concern for those who desire a free press and unbiased information. What these stories reveal is the tension of who controls the media and to what degree. The BBC is still a good source for news, but commercial interests have cast suspicion on its biases. China’s government control walks a tightrope with contemporary culture and its efforts to but a firewall against government criticism. Briggs and Burke show that the tension of freedom of the press and government control have been a struggle over a long period of time.
Is there a conspiracy? Alexander Solzhenitsyn was famous for saying “If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” When considering the media we do need to be critical and engaged. But fear too often is an uncritical reaction. We need to examine our own bias and why we are fearful. Engaging media is vital for continual understanding both for culture and our own hearts. We are neither against media nor for it. We assess it.
There are three suggestions for Christ followers that I would like to suggest:
1. Scripture, both the Old and New Testament, can enable us to evaluate the messages we intact daily. But scripture alone will not do unless we watch our own reading of its truths. Too often we use it as a club to beat down ideas that threaten us.
2. Community dialogue with others who both share our views and who challenge them will keep us sharp and from convoluted ideas.
3. Seek to sharpen your discernments skills listening to the Spirit of God as you engage both the first and second suggetions.
A Social History of the Media: From Gutenberg to the Internet, Third Edition, by Asa Briggs and Peter Burke, Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2009.
“BBC under pressure to restore trust after scandal”. By Cassandra Vinograd. AP News, Nov. 11, 2012. Web content viewed Nov. 11, 2012: http://m.apnews.com/ap/db_289563/contentdetail.htm?contentguid=2W6fDxpy
“Chinese Authorities Putting Pressure on Businesses to Help Censor the Web.” By Jonathan Ansfield, New York Times International, Wednesday, November 14,2012. Section A 9.
“Obama blocks Chinese wind Farm Purchase.” David Jackson, USAtoday.com ,September 28, 2012, accessed November 15, 2012.