This weeks article in Australian Presbyterian. You can read the original here. I felt it was important to respond to some criticism I received on what is a really important issue. Be interested to know your thoughts (the links to the two earlier articles are in the post).
One of the good things about writing is when people react in a constructive and helpful way which takes the dialogue on further. Which is why I am thankful (and honoured) that such an experienced journalist (45 years in the business) as Barney Zwartz has responded to my piece on Newspapers and Bias in The Australian Presbyterian. Since I first came to Australia, I have enjoyed Barney’s writings (his musical pieces in particular). The fact that he is a Presbyterian is an added bonus!
Barney’s response is helpful in that it allows me to explain further the concerns I think we should have, as we deal with the secular media, and I hope enables us to apply some more biblical principles. Barney thinks that I am ‘off the point’ and he may well be right – but let me try and make the point in a different way – to ensure that we are at least singing from the same hymn sheet – even if we may be slightly out of tune with one another!
Principle 1 – We should not judge a writer by what he does not say.
The reason I did not censure the ‘right wing media’ who repeated Trump’s claims about the falsified election is because I was writing in Australia about the Sydney Morning Herald and pointing out that the SMH, in its own way is just as bad as the ‘right wing’ media it was attacking. My article was about the hypocrisy of those who claim to be speaking unbiased truth when they themselves do exactly the thing they are complaining about. In complaining about bias on the one side, I was not justifying it on the other! I also assumed that the readers of AP are intelligent enough for me not to have to add numerous caveats and let everyone know that I am opposed to sin and for motherhood and apple pie!
Principle 2 – We should not make judgements about a writer’s politics based on our own perceptions and prejudices.
Barney assumes that he knows my politics from my article and indicates that I must be ‘right wing’. After all, why criticise the SMH and say nothing about the right-wing media, unless you are right wing? I’m afraid that this kind of binary thinking which is so prevalent on social media, and sadly has now seeped into mainstream media, is precisely what I was writing against. For what it’s worth my nickname was ‘Red Robbo’! I was politically active and went on demonstrations, sit-ins etc – firstly as an office bearer in the Labour party, then a founding member of the Social Democratic Party – and then as a supporter of the Scottish National Party. None of this fits Barney’s judgement of my politics – but it does enable him to dismiss my view as ‘he would say that wouldn’t he’ because of a false understanding of my politics. Perhaps it’s better to let people speak for themselves.
I love the CS Lewis quote – although I note that in today’s world CS Lewis would be considered ‘Far Right’ and would be cancelled because of his social views.
Principle 3 – We should question everything.
Barney is concerned about the distrust in mainstream media which he feels is having a negative effect upon society – encouraging disharmony and causing people to turn instead to their own echo chambers. I share that concern. But I don’t agree that this is primarily the fault of politically motivated commentators who are seeking to discredit what is good. The point of my original article was to show that the mainstream media have often themselves been the source of their own degradation.
The SMH is a prime example. It was once a quality newspaper which had a degree of serious writing and a variety of views, but sadly it has been greatly diminished into a kind of progressive tabloid, which is essentially an echo chamber for the liberal progressives. You will struggle to find any alternative views in the SMH on the Woke issues of the day. Which is why I think we should question everything (whether right or left) and learn to think for ourselves. I agree with Barney that we should avoid the tribalism that is so endemic in both social and mainstream media. But if the MSM are themselves an echo chamber is it any wonder that those who don’t share that echo look elsewhere?
Principle 4 – In such an environment it is good for us to read widely from a variety of different sources.
I read the SMH, the Australian, the Spectator, the China Post, the Guardian, the New York Times, the Scotsman and The Times. I also use the BBC, ABC, Al Jazeera and, like Barney, get a variety of news updates from Marxist to the real Far Right.
Principle 5 – We need to recognise that the times they are a changing!
In my work I sometimes come across senior lawyers who are partners in legal firms who state that they have no problem with their Christianity at work. But the younger ones often tell me a different story. The older, senior men are left in post and don’t have to worry. But the younger guys have to be careful to celebrate ‘purple’ day and do nothing to question the ‘values’ of their company (which are often more political than legal) – or they won’t be able to climb the corporate ladder.
Likewise with journalism. I have no doubt that Barney has never been asked to write against his conscience or slant news. But I have spoken to younger journalists who have. But more than that – they don’t have to be asked. They know what the ethos is. They know what they cannot write. And they would not dare. If you want to know where this leads just look at the once great New York Times which has seen a number of journalists compelled to resign because they dared to question the current Woke zeitgeist.
Principle 6 – We need to grasp that the old paradigm of ‘left/right’ politics no longer applies.
In the old days a left winger like me was a socialist who believed in the redistribution of wealth and the provision of government services especially for the poor. Today the distinction between capitalist and socialist as largely gone. We are all corporate capitalists now – even the Chinese Communists. You can be a billionaire and claim to be left wing without it affecting any of your billions. You can be a working-class trade unionist and yet be called a Far Right fascist because you support coal mining and believe in biblical marriage. Which is why increasingly in the West it is the middle classes and wealthy who are claiming to be left wing (and for the poor!) whilst the poor are moving towards a more conservative position. It is worth noting that at the last UK general election the majority of working-class people in the UK voted Conservative for the first time.
It is important for us to realise that the distinction now is largely between those who are socially ‘progressive’ (in reality regressive) and those who are socially conservative. The governing elites in our society (whether right or left) tend towards the socially progressive and that creates an enormous problem and area of conflict for the Church. The new ‘morality’ is fundamentally anti-Christian. I have no hesitation in saying that the SMH is anti-Christian – attacking consistently, whether by innuendo or outright accusation, basic Christian teachings.
(This article was published by the time I sent in an addition – this part 7…)
Principle 7 – The Church needs to regain its prophetic voice and its courage.
The Church should not take a political stance on traditional left/right issues – but we cannot be neutral on those social issues which directly go against the teaching of Jesus Christ. Our young people are being indoctrinated into these anti-Christian views, and our media largely supports that indoctrination. I am enormously thankful for those like Barney who have fought the good fight for many years. But now we are in a different battle. We are no longer part of a Christendom which tolerated and wanted us. We are in enemy territory. We should not come on bended knee to the secular king’s table – promising to be nice as long as they give us a few scraps. We should, as graciously and gently as possible , proclaim that it’s time to repent, for the kingdom of God is near. Let it begin with the Church. Its time for us to reform, rethink and repent.
A Prophetic Letter from 1971 – The Church and the Media – Rev. James Philip
The Sin of Spin – The Politicians, the Media and the Church