Australia Media Politics

Dealing With Mainstream Media – AP

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

 

19 comments

  1. ” 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.”

    Yes and as mentioned before, this has been the case in Australia since at least the 1990s.

    “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.”

    I suppose I more or less exist outside a neat box too – a very, very conservative person who also happens to be a Christian pacifist whereas many on the liberal left are anti-pacifist these days.

    Thanks for this article, Pastor. It is very helpful. I am just judging myself against it in light of my contributions to the very long discussion on the other post about the Tasmanian journalist and blogger, Philippa Moore, since we have been critical of her extremely “woke” positions.

    It is a good to take time out to teflect and ensyre there is not a beam in our own eyes and to ensure we are not making unfair assumptions about another person’s position.

    God bless.

  2. I should probabky clarify: when I say I am very, very conservstive, I mean in terms of moral and social issues.

    In terms of economic sustems, I am not in a position to judge as I don’t have enough knowledge of economics. I guess I’d take a pragmatic approach and it seems to me a mixed market model, like we have in Australia and many European countries, has worked better than either extreme capitalism or extreme socialism. Maybe, just maybe, as computer technology improves, a working algorith will emerge at some point that will lead to a better, fairer distribution of wealth than we have at present.

  3. “We are in enemy territory.” Indeed, and of course you are right about the church needing to regain it’s prophetic voice and courage. However there could be an argument for what you say about “dealing with mainstream media” is also true of the church. It was religious powers that wanted Jesus dead and secular powers that carried that out.

    There’s nothing new under the sun and prophets have always been and always will be without honour among their own people. But blessed are you if you are hated because of Christ for great is your reward in the kingdom!

    I hear your point David about more senior lawyers not having a problem but it being a different story with younger men. And if there is to be attack, it’s more likely to be against men then women. It’s not sexist to say this but a simple truth. It’s inevitably wars that are fought by men. And a regressive society becomes more primal in nature. In a primitive society the survival of a tribe is dependent on caring for the women more so than the men simply because of numbers. With fewer women there’s less likelihood to reproduce whereas with fewer men that’s not so much of an issue.

    So for both reasons, men become more expendable the more regressive a culture gets. So it is any surprise therefore that younger men as struggling wiht issues that more established older men are less concerned about for themselves? It seems therefore that vital older men to have courage to speak out if this regressive trend is to be reversed and to be an encouragement to younger men to be similar. By encouragement I don’t mean being nice in order that young men can feel comfortable. I mean engendering courage to do what it needed, come what may wiht risking being cancelled, losing a position and, yes being hated and not caring if any of these happen because of knowledge of a greater reward.

    “Whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it” (Matt 16:25).

  4. Re; ‘echo chamber’ – in the recent big Tech and MSN moves to monitor ‘fake’ news, are these in fact creating around themselves, (journalists, editors and readers/viewers) their own echo chamber through the screening out of those who even question the headlines and stories?

  5. Practicalities of principle 7. How does the church take a stand on those social issues in a mainstream way? Though I’m very glad of your blog for doing just that, I would love to see a clear Christian apologetic for some of these issues (e.g. abortion, freedom of speech, proposed gender recognition) in mainstream media. It never seems to be there in anything more than a glancing mention, and yet I wonder if it may represent the views of more people than we believe it would. Are there any journalists out there with the opportunity and desire to do this?

    If news of Covid-19 can cover the world in a year, surely the gospel can do the same?

    1. I often wonder about point 7, too. How does the church in France deal with laicité? They have strict separation of church and state bit surely they still have a voice on social issues, since many pieces of legislation obviously have a moral element, such as abortion legislation, same-sex marriage bills, increases in military budgets, etc, etc.

      Regarding Christian journalists, one name that immediately sprang to mind is Kel Richards. He was an ABC News Radio broadcaster but I think he left the ABC a while ago. He is a devout Christian and wrote a book about Christianity in Australia. Pastor David, may be yoou could reach out to him? Perhaps some of your Sydney colleagues know him.

      I agree we definitely do NOT want to see the church affilisted with any one partisan political party. We have seen the negative effects of the “religous right” in the United States becoming too tied to the Republican Party and also the impact of extremely liberal priests in Australia like Rod Bower, Peter Catt and Jeanette Jamieson-Foarde tying themselves to far left ideas and identity politics. Both have been equally disastrous and have just srrved to alienate people of differing political persuasions.

      God bless.

    2. I just found a hort (3 minute) video clip of Kel Richards from December talking about the ABC’s left-wing bias, which they always deny…

      https://www.skynews.com.au/details/_6215623617001

      The video says the ABC identify him as a “conservative analysr” these days, so perhaps he is already considered too partisan to be a good Christian ally on the media. 🙁 Thoughts?

  6. I think it was Martin Luther who said: “If you want to change the world take up your pen and write”. A free press is a great gift to the Church; and particularly so with Covid, when many churches remain closed. A lot of cynical sceptics, never venturing within a hundred yards of a pulpit, often delight in analysing thoughtful newspaper pieces on spirituality. Clarity, brevity, controversy, humour, and wisdom, can sometimes hit the mark. Regional biases are fascinating. Welsh papers perhaps seem less likely to touch spirituality. English papers sometimes follow spiritual stories. Scottish papers are much more up for some debate. Irish papers are often open to very full blooded discussion. Is the UK Guardian the most fortified media citadel of secularism? Motte and Bailey defence sometimes shows a kind of fear and reverence. The WeeFlea might mutate into a raven, and get fed at the Tower of London. Writing for the UK Guardian would probably be more unlikely.

  7. “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.”

    Today’s headline:

    “Alan Dershowitz Warns That ‘Cancel Culture Is Quickly Becoming American Culture’”

    https://www.lifezette.com/2021/02/alan-dershowitz-warns-that-cancel-culture-is-quickly-becoming-american-culture/

    Note this originally came from Fox News, so another partisan source but it rings true. If it is that bad in America now, it will also be the case in Australia soon. As per the old saying, “If America sneezes, we catch a cold.” I expect the cancel culture to continue to grow worse and worse down here until we arrive at the point America has already reached. 🙁

    1. Thanks for that article. I’ve heard a lot about China’s expansion in Africa but not so much about their business interests in Afghanistan and Iraq.

      This para was an interesting reading of why Fukuyama’s prophecy failed:

      “Just after defeating communism in the Soviet Union, America breathed new life into the communist party that survived. And instead of Western democratic principles transforming the CCP, the American establishment acquired a taste for Eastern techno-autocracy. Tech became the anchor of the U.S.-China relationship, with CCP funding driving Silicon Valley startups, thanks largely to the efforts of Dianne Feinstein, who, after Kissinger, became the second-most influential official driving the U.S.-CCP relationship for the next 20 years.”

      It is interesting to see how much Chinese money is allegedly being used to fund US think tanks, research institutes and unis. Thanks.

  8. “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.”

    That really surprises me! I just assumed the Tories always had a lot of working class support, just like they do here in Australia. I guess I was influenced by shows like “Til Death Do Us Part” and (admittedly, negative) images of right-wing soccer hooligans and Johnny Rotten-types. Is the conservative = working class idea mainly an East End of London thing then?

    How on earth did people like Thatcher achieve such sweeping victories without working class support then? Did she manage to unite the middle and upper classes? Thanks in advance.

  9. I follow you because I believe you to be a truth teller/observer even should it hurt. You a right winger? He has not followed you long. But he makes your point so well.

  10. A problem you don’t address is the devalued status of journalism. Trained journalists, like accountants, are becoming increasingly irrelevant in the modern world. Underpaid and undervalued they are rewarded chiefly for attracting the last puddles of advertising gold. There are very few Australian print media journalists of the calibre of Zwartz, Sheridan or Savva under 40, and fewer still quality newspapers for them to write for.

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