The world of news communication appears to be a world in which “one man’s stupidity is another man’s wisdom”. How we view an event or an idea seems to be becoming less and less indebted to veracity inherent in the facts, or the possibilities dormant in the idea, but increasingly shaped by the spin that lubricates the telling. The news outlet we turn on becomes the company we keep and it shapes the opinions we hold. Would we hold the views we do without the spin of our news provider? Why isn’t it possible for an event to be recorded objectively so that no matter which news channel is employed, the story sounds the same?
The reason for this state of affairs is that few news channels are genuinely independent, the vast majority are beholden to their owners, therefore the ‘news’ that comes from them may be 10% news and 90% advocacy. In the case of North Korea it is probably 100% advocacy meaning it is all propaganda.
Because Donald Trump has lived his entire life in a world of advocacy, advocacy of his own brand, he has irreversibly come to mistake advocacy for news and news for advocacy. Therefore, any item that does not promote his brand is false – fake news. What he means by ‘fake news’ has nothing to do with news, but everything to do with what he deems harmful to his brand of advocacy. It is really quite simple, facts are not important, image is all important; facts that tarnish the image are fake.
If this confusion of advocacy and news were restricted to the US that would be serious enough, but unfortunately it is not. Two battles relating to news and the forming of public opinion are currently raging in the halls of Australian political power. The first is between public broadcasting and privately owned news outlets, especially the Murdoch Empire of Fox and News Limited. In order to secure One Nation’s votes in the parliament the government is allowing, perhaps even promoting, moves that would seek to diminish the influence of the ABC and SBS. It suits the government to describe the national broadcaster as left leaning, because it can then accuse the broadcaster of bias. But why is it left leaning to support science? Why is it left leaning to give voice to gender equality which is clearly supported by the vast majority of Australians? Why is it left leaning to expose issues of corruption such as NT children in detention or the corruption of Adani? Why is it left leaning to speak coherently about many of the major issues facing our contemporary world? Which groupings of self-interest is the national broadcaster advocating on behalf of in these exposés - none that I can detect, other than the common good. The public broadcaster goes beyond the 30 second grab to engage the listener/viewer at some depth about often complex issues. Apparently it is left leaning to do so. Why? Why wouldn’t such activity be party political neutral; adequately informing the public should be the aim of all broadcasters and all politicians.
The second battle relates to Get-up. Groups such as Get-up do not pretend to be anything other than advocacy groups. They exist, to promote the issues which were the rationale for their formation. Get-up is not a news channel, neither is it the channel of a political party. That issues it espouses are taken up more by one side of politics than another encourages or discourages electors according to their disposition. On the other hand Fox News is an advocacy medium that does not bother to hide its political leanings. It is every bit as much an advocacy channel as Get-up, and yet it masquerades as a news channel. Fox News advocates for big business and monopolies and it promotes all that is wrong with capitalism (see NZ political outcome) in exactly the same way that Get-up argues the case for social equity and environmental sustainability. The identity and freedom of Get-Up is currently being challenged. I would argue that whatever legitimacy this challenge may have, it applies even more to Fox.
The world has entered a very dangerous phase of its existence, because consequences flow from our actions as never before. This is a phase in which the vast majority would, I have no doubt, like to do the ‘right thing’; but because the ‘right thing’ is so often described as ‘fake’ by powerful corporate interests, confusion reigns as seen in the energy ‘wars’ of Australia.
The antidote to self-interest is to be exposed more broadly. November 1 is All Saints day, when the Christian community celebrates the extraordinary diversity of company that we keep and the ideal of shalom (peace, harmony, equity) under the sovereignty of God that holds us together. The ethical demands of monotheism are challenging, for we hold that all life is a continuum, the life of one matters to all. The bible describes as saints those who seek the common good, those who give voice to the voiceless and seek to empower the disempowered. It is such a strange thing that Christians who today describe themselves as politically conservative consider this behaviour to be ‘left wing’.
We believe in a living community which transcends generations, ethnicities, and difference of any kind and through which we are all enriched. It is the Christian perspective that the universal is to be understood through the particular, but that the particular finds its destiny and value in the universal. As global as we think we have become, the truth is that modern society is regressing more and more into tribes of self interest which diminish rather than enrich.