Media

From the Dean

A regular article written by Phillip Jensen in his role as Dean of Sydney at St Andrew's Cathedral.

Originally Published:
12th September 2008

Tagged: communication media

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The other day I went to the optometrist. It is a strange thing to look at glasses instead of looking through them—leaving aside the difficulty of looking at your glasses carefully when you do not have them on! Glasses are designed to look through, not look at. They are supposed to help us see the world in sharper focus. But, if the lenses are distorted or even dirty, they can distort your vision of the world instead of clarifying it.

For the last couple of centuries western civilisation has been looking at the world through the lens of the public media. The prophets have been the journalists as they mediated and explained the world to society, and ourselves to us.

Journalists have had to fight hard to avoid their message being compromised. They have had to resist the seduction of the media owners' profit motive as well as the government's desire to control public broadcasting. But the fight has become irrelevant in the face of the electronic revolution that is overtaking the world.

The revolution in electronic technology has overwhelmed us. Now anybody can speak to anybody within a few seconds without censorship. We no longer need the public media to describe the world to us. It is like laser surgery—we can see the modern world without our glasses.

Mark Scott, the General Manager of the ABC, is reported as saying: “We are seeing a great transformation from the era of media barons and public broadcasters, controlling all that was seen or heard or read, to a great democratisation of media where anyone, anywhere can report or comment or analyse, and find an audience.”

Naturally such an open and free system has created all manner of problems. For example, the revolution has given rise to the spread of pornography, the availability of on-line gambling, and the rapid dissemination of misinformation. Human sinfulness will always use the technology of the day to rear its ugly head.

Yet the advantages of the new world of communication so vastly outweigh the problems, that it is overpowering all other media. As the telegram is no longer available, so the newspapers, mail, fixed line telephones, and large commercial TV stations are all undergoing threat. Even some basic books, like dictionaries and encyclopaedias, seem to have a limited future.

Today we access information rather than read. We relate technologically rather than physically. Our “friends” on Facebook are people we have never met and yet are more important and even more real to us than the people living next door.

Advertising in mass media has paid for reporters to research and recount the news of the day. Smaller readership means declining advertising revenue. This in turn reduces the quality of journalism—which further erodes readership.

For some time regular readers have noticed the blurred line between editorial and reporting. All news stories have become editorialised. In one sense it is impossible to report without opinionating. All stories are biased summaries. However, objective reporting has been replaced with intentional subjectivity.

Journalists have long argued for the importance, even necessity of their profession. Their commitment to fearless, impartial investigation and exposure of the truth is said to be the necessary foundation for a free and democratic society. But the lack of professionalism, their clear bias, their involvement in creating the news rather than reporting it, their stereotyped way of framing stories, all belie their claims.

Fast disappearing are the reporters who reported what happened. Today journalists create the news by stimulating conflict and then “reporting” on their own homemade stories.

The high moral ground of concern for the truth has become just empty rhetoric used to gain readership and credibility. The moral imperatives of professional journalism are about as believable as “Truth, Justice and the American way”. It is only believed within their own circles.

The public media are now in the optometrist shop trying to look at themselves.

This week the journalist Paul Sheehan complained of the traditional media's political bias concluding “Everywhere there are signs of growing cynicism with the media: an unwillingness to pay for what can be obtained free on the internet, a refusal to shuffle through the old media information portals, and a contagious knowingness and irony about the traditional media's self-proclaimed role as moral guardians and custodians of the public good.”

And Mark Scott expressed his desire for the future of the ABC as “to create a service—online and on television—that allows citizens to watch for themselves key democratic processes and public events: unmediated, unfiltered.”

Unmediated media is a wonderful idea. It is impossible, because the media is the message. But it is a wonderful play on words as well as a great ideal to pursue. To let people speak for themselves and to be heard without intermediaries distorting their message. How wonderful to put the speaker and the hearer in direct contact with each other. This is the electronic revolution that the public broadcasters are struggling to keep up with.

This is the media revolution that Christians have been wanting for years. It suits us as the printing press suited us back at the time of the Reformation. It enables us to speak directly to the world without media distortion of our message.

It is like that greater media revolution that happened in the first century. Then all intermediaries were abolished as God became Man and removed the sin and judgment that separated us from God. Now we no longer need mediums, priests, sacrifices, temples or gurus. Now we are in direct contact with God in the man Jesus Christ. Only the man who is God can be the mediator between God and man.

“For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all” (1 Timothy 2:5f).