24 August 2010

Taking religion seriously

Bishop Nick Baines has an interesting post about the debate concerning the case for a 'religion editor' for the BBC. In my opnion, he (along with others) makes a strong case based on the need for interpretation and balanced consideration in the news. Through the economic meltdown, we have been treated to the wise, if irritatingly voiced, words of Robert Peston. He has helped us to understand what has been going on in a balanced way - we don't just have to believe the government or opposition hyperbole, and we don't have to wade through the broadsheets analysis. We simply tune into the Beeb and Robert will walk us through it.

The argument continues to say that, as religion is such a massive and influential phenomenon in the world, it makes no sense to ignore it. Even if we disagree with it, we cannot deny its existence or its prominance in society. Rather than taking the atheist position as the objective and scientific one, a religious editor would see this as one of many positions - not the de facto 'thinking person's' view of the world.

My only problem with any of this is that I don't think it is possible for anyone (let alone those in the media) to be completely objective. We're kidding ourselves if we think that Peston is completely without prejudice and bias - we are all prejudiced and biased.

This could be an argument against any kind of mediated news on the basis that it is all prejudiced. I don't think I can successfully defeat that one to my own satisfaction! In reality, though, we rely on mediated news and we always have. Newspapers, even the local ones, have a political slant. They filter out the things they don't consider to be newsworthy based on circulation figures and pre-existing prejudices.

And you can take it back a step further. When I go home tonight and tell DrLanky about my day at work, you can guarantee that I will present the edited highlights; I won't spend 8 hours recalling every trivial occurrance. I will edit the 'news' according to my own bias and prejudice, and according to what I think she will find interesting (sound familiar?). I'm not saying that I will lie, I will just edit the truth - we all do it; we can't avoid doing it! We just don't think about it.

In the end it comes down to trust. If you trust the person giving you the news, you trust that they will tell you the things you feel you need to know, without avoiding any interesting bits. You also trust that they will not distort the facts (though we all* exaggerate to some extent).

It's exactly the same with the news. We choose our news outlets by the way they fit with our world view. This is why I don't read the Sun and I don't watch Fox News - their versions of the truth doesn't seem to match the one that I observe in the world, so I choose to ignore them. Instead, I read the BBC news website and dip into the Indendent and Guardian for my news. They don't always match with my world view, but they get close most of the time.

Once this relationship of trust is established, the viewer can start to trust (to a certain extent) the content being presented, and as long as the editor continues to play ball, everyone is happy. Our trusted editor tells us what we need to know and filters out the uninteresting bits. They also bring to our attention the important things we may not have noticed, and as such they are an important part of the news infrastructure.

The reason I read my news in a few different places, though, is because I don't trust the BBC in the same way as I trust my wife. I feel the need to check up on them to see if they are being faithful. Many people don't do this, especially those who read the red-tops, and this is where the real power of the editor lies. Many people trust the news (from whatever source), and to have a religion editor who brings balance to religious stories would be very welcome. 

*pun intended


  1. Thank you for such a sensible and considered post. I resonate exactly with what you say about it not being always possible to have an unbiased view of Christianity and religion. And I follow your logic to the letter on where I get my information - plus online and blogland for snippets of course.

  2. Thanks for persisting to the end of the post! I hadn't realised how long it was until now!