Don’t believe everything you read (even if it’s by the BBC)

It’s been over two weeks since violence flared up around the world in response to the ridiculous and inflammatory film that was ‘Innocence of Muslims’, but we’re still seeing the repercussions of it at the United Nations where the  56-nation Organisation of Islamic Cooperation has been pressing for an international ban on blasphemy.

The events in Libya that saw the American ambassador, Christopher Stevens killed in Benghazi were shocking and the pictures broadcast on our news channels of the subsequent protests and denunciations by religious leaders in various countries gave the strong impression that large parts of the Muslim dominated areas of the world were out on the streets united in hatred of the United States and anyone who dared insult their religion.

But this was not the whole truth and especially not in Libya.

If you searched the news stories hard enough you would have found that the picture in Libya was very different to what many of us had been led to believe.  Some closer to the ground have been telling of many in Benghazi being distraught at the death of an ambassador who was well liked by people there.  Take this extract from the New Yorker for example:

‘Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens was a popular figure in Libya, and nowhere  more than in Benghazi. Friends and relatives there tell me that the city is  mournful. There have been spontaneous demonstrations denouncing the attack.  Popular Libyan Web sites are full of condemnations of those who carried out the  assault. And there was a general air of despondency in the city Wednesday night.  The streets were not as crowded and bustling as usual. There is a deep and  palpable sense that Benghazi, the proud birthplace of the revolution, has failed  to protect a highly regarded guest.’

Over a week after the ambassador’s death, the BBC quietly reported that a large protest of 30,000 people had taken place in Benghazi.  But the targets of the crowds’ wrath was not the US or the West but rather the powerful Islamist militia groups who were blamed for killing Christopher Stevens.  Bases were stormed and militiamen were driven out of the city.

In order to simplify the narrative of a news story or to present it from a certain angle our broadcasters and newspapers will not always give viewers or readers information about the bigger picture.  Most of us who follow the news know this happens, especially in the newspapers, but the problem is we don’t know what we’re not being told and that can lead to inaccurate beliefs and perceptions being reinforced even if we’re aware of biased reporting.

Even the BBC, supposedly balanced in its coverage of the news, can’t always be trusted.  Last Saturday this article was published on the BBC website about Peterson Toscano, a gay Christian man who spent $30,000 trying and failing to be converted to a heterosexuality.  It’s a painful story and one that doesn’t paint the church in a good light.

Towards the end of the story it was said that the Evangelical Alliance ‘did not wish to comment on Mr Toscano’s experience’, so in order to give the story ‘balance’ comments were provided by Peter Ould who is a vicar well known for describing himself as ‘post-gay’ and Dr Peter Saunders who is CEO of the Christian Medical Fellowship.

Within a few hours of the story going up on the BBC website, both Peter Ould and Peter Saunders had complained on Twitter that they had been selectively quoted giving an inaccurate interpretation of what they had said.  Later that day they had both written blog posts to put over their sides of the story and give a full account of what they had actually said.  You can read them here and here.

The day after, Danny Webster, Parliamentary Officer for the Evangelical Alliance provided a reason for their ‘no comment’ on a post looking a the BBC’s article on the Beaker Folk of Husborne Crawley’s blog.  He explained that they did not feel that they were qualified to give an opinion on the story when asked by the BBC so instead pointed them in the direction of others who might be willing to speak on this subject.

So three unhappy experiences of contact with the BBC all in the space of one article.  Not what you’d hope for.  The danger for Christians in their relationship with the press is that the fear of misrepresentation and misquotation raises a barrier strong enough to dissuade engagement.  Whatever concerns we have, the voice of Christians needs to be in the media to represent those who believe and to get the message of the gospel over when appropriate even if it means that sometimes that message and words get twisted and distorted.

In the same way those of us who write from a Christian perspective should be doing our utmost to avoid falling into the same trap.  Christians should be known for standing up for truth and integrity and that means deliberately avoiding being selective in what we say or manipulating the facts to suit our message even if that means putting ourselves in a bad light or having to apologise and correct our words if we realise in hindsight we got something wrong.  Can you imagine how much shorter the Bible would be if the stories of failure and rebellion were removed?

Paul in Ephesians talks about putting off falsehood and speaking truthfully.  Sometimes the charge is made against Christians that we are not that different to everyone else in the way we think and act.  The media is one area where that difference ought to be obvious and we should be going out of our way to make it happen, to show that we live and operate by God’s values and not those of the the world.  It doesn’t take much for people to see the difference and know which is better way to do things.

Categories: Islam, Media, Morals & ethics

Tags: , , , , , , ,

8 replies

  1. I was going to hit the ‘Like’ button, because on the whole I like what you’re saying here, but it looks like you’ve turned them off. Oh well…

    That said, however, Peter Saunders is hardly one to talk about being misrepresented, given his deliberate and disingenuous misrepresentation of the Coalition for Equal Marriage back in February: from his attitude and arrogance there, it would be difficult to find a more obnoxious representative of Christianity – quite toxic, in fact.

    • Sorry Phil, I don’t always remember to turn the like button on – now fixed.

      Your comment about Peter Saunders relates to the last bit of my article. It’s no good claiming that other people are treating you unfairly if you don’t apply the same principles to others. I’m not going to defend other Christians if they’re deliberately being unnecessarily provocative or distorting the facts.

      • Thanks Gillan. I think there’s a global setting somewhere that allows you to have the Like button on by default, but no worries.

        Back to the BBC: they do seem to be taking the lazy journalism route all too often these days. In the run up to Christmas last year they followed up a radio interview with Keith Jones Bookshop in Bournemouth with a write-up that described them as “struggling to survive” — ended up having to rewrite the article and take that bit out after KJ protested.

  2. The BBC have this reputation for impartiality and balance but there is nearly always an agenda often very subtle. A negative tone around Islam and the Christian position on Homosexuality are common. Extreme cases make the news. But what is actually true ? Is Peterson Toscanos experience of restorative / conversion therapy representative or is it used as part of an agenda to discredit Christianity in favour of contemporary thinking. Are carefully crafted programmes sending a subliminal message that influences public thinking or is the Beeb just reflecting a prevailing view in society? How do we know then what is truth from the information we receive. What Peter Saunders is saying might be true but i dislike his adversarial tone a great deal because it is counter productive and detracts from important issues and the otherwise excellent medical comment he offers. I agree Gillan integrity in dealing with facts is so important not least because manipulation is always exposed at some point and adds to the general political cynicism.

    • Thanks Graham. I find Peter Saunders frustrating in his approach. He has plenty of excellent, important to say, especially in the role at CMF that he has. His confrontational style may help him to get noticed more, but sadly I think it sometimes detracts from his message and allows others to write him off as a right-wing Christian fundamentalist to be avoided.

  3. A good article, and reaffirms what I have read elsewhere about the reporting of the Muslim film protests, ie reported in a biased and unfactual way.

    But to contradict one thing you say – the BBC is very well known for its bias. Only the Beeb itself persists in calling itself impartial and balanced. Its an open secret that they are not impartial. Those within who are left wing are promoted, Christians openly ridiculed, and hard facts, such as in the opposite motive for some of the violence surrounding this film, completely unreported so as to produce propaganda.

    The general feeling seems to me to be that the MSM has had its day some considerable time ago, with the rise of new media. People can test what they hear on the news or read in a paper by reading from many more sources online, again all to be read using one’s critical faculties, and draw their own conclusions. One only has to read bloggers such as Archbishop Cranmer to witness a very different angle – especially regarding news of Christian concern.
    As you quoted, Paul advocates “speaking the truth in love”. The two go hand in hand for the believer.

    • Thank you Rachel. All excellent points. I agree that some of us who are more familiar with the BBC are aware of its bias, but I wonder if that is the case for much of the general population who don’t think about these things so much? That’s why it’s important to highlight these examples. One of the great things about the internet is that there are more voices trying to get the truth out. The tricky bit is knowing who to listen to.


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