Faith commentary on ‘fake news’

October 5th, 2015 | Posted by jameswatkins in Uncategorized

With accusations of “fake news,” “media bias” and “Internet misinformation,” it’s hard to know what is indeed fake and fact.

For fifteen years I carried a press as a reporter, while at the same time teaching writing at Taylor University. I always encouraged my students—and myself—to be an OAF: objective, accurate and fair. Here’s a column I wrote about my responsibility as a person of the press and a person of faith:

The disciple Luke describes media in the first century this way:

      And they took [Paul] and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? For you bring some strange things to our ears. We wish to know therefore what these things mean.” Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new (Acts 17:19-21).

Instead of tuning into the so-called “mainstream media,” in the first century you headed on down to the city gate if you were a man and to the town’s well if you were a woman. (This is why the famous “woman at the well” was there at noon, because she was the early morning news!).

“Mass media” began in Renaissance Europe with hand-written newsletters addressed to local merchants with news of wars and financial markets. In 1440 the Gutenberg Press, with its movable type, allowed for the news to be more efficiently printed. In the late 1400s newspapers appeared with sensationalized, opinionated and biased news involving graphic descriptions of crimes, affairs, and topics typical of today’s grocery store tabloids.

The London Gazette began publishing November 7, 1665, making it the oldest newspaper still in publication. It began as an official publication of the English government. The United States first newspaper, Publick Occurrences, Both Foreign and Domestick, debuted in 1690 and was promptly shut down by British authorities. The first continually published American newspaper was the Boston Newsletter, which like the London Gazette, was under government control. With the American Revolution and ratification of the Bill of Rights in1791, freedom of the press was guaranteed and privately owned newspapers—free from government control—began to flourish.

Many believe the newspaper business reached its apex early last century. Newspapers attempted to shed the sleaze and bias with the American Society of Newspaper Editors drafting the “Canons of Journalism” in 1923. It declared that “News reports should be free from opinion or bias of any kind.”

At the same time, privately owned newspapers were being bought up by conglomerates such as Scripps-Howard, which owned 25 newspapers, and William Randolph Hearst, who owned 20 daily papers, 11 Sunday newspapers, two wire services and six magazines. This continued until 1983, when 90 percent of media was owned by 50 companies. Today, only five corporations own the majority of American news media: GE (NBC), Rupert Murdoch’s News-Corp (Fox, Fox News, Wall Street Journal, New York Post), Disney (ABC), Time Warner (CNN, Time) and CBS.

But enter the Internet. While Gutenberg changed how news was published, the Internet has changed what news is published!

Today, it is becoming increasingly difficult for governments and corporations to control and censor news. “Citizen journalists” have been responsible for bringing down oppressive regimes with their Twitter and YouTube accounts. The Internet news aggregate Drudge Report first broke news of President Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinski. And cell phone videos have brought alleged crimes and misconduct to national and international attention.

While giant corporations depend on advertisers—which can subtly and not so subtly influence what news is and isn’t covered—any person with access to the Internet with a computer or mobile device can become a “news source.”

News has become “democratized,” but that can quickly lead to anarchy! But this is nothing new as Luke notes:

      Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you . . . so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught (Luke 1:1-4 NIV).

Luke provides some excellent principles:

Go to the primary sources. “Those who from the first were eyewitnesses.”

Verify! Verify! Verify! “Carefully investigate everything from the beginning.”

Be certain you have the facts. “Know the certainty of the things you have been taught.”

Christians who blindly forward misinformation and quotations out of context are breaking the commandment to “not bear false witness.” And, may I be completely honest, looking ignorant!

We live in the golden age of information and, at the very same time, the dark ages of misinformation. So, follow Luke’s advice to “Carefully investigate everything from the beginning.”

Copyright © 2015 James N. Watkins

Originally posted at The Presidential Prayer Team blog. If you found it helpful, please share on your social networks. Thanks!

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