For journalists, the year 2021 was the best of times and the worst of times. The best, because journalists Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov won the globally prestigious Nobel Peace Prize for what the awarding committee described as “their fight for freedom of expression” in the Philippines and Russia.
It was the worst of years because the number of journalists jailed in 2021 reached a record high and many reporters around the world faced threats online and in person.
The US-based Committee for the Protection of Journalists concluded: “It’s been an especially bleak year for defenders of press freedom. The number of reporters jailed for their work hit a new global record of 293, up from 280 in 2020.
“At least 24 journalists were killed because of their coverage so far this year; 18 others died in circumstances too murky to determine whether they were specific targets.”
Detailing the worst offenders, CPJ says: “China remains the world’s worst jailer of journalists for the third year in a row, with 50 behind bars. Myanmar soared to the second slot after the media crackdown that followed its February military coup. Egypt, Vietnam, and Belarus, respectively, rounded out the top five.”
Even in the UK more than a third of female journalists who took part in a government survey about abuse and harassment published last month, said they felt unsafe doing their jobs.
Trade journal, the UK Press Gazette reported: “In total, 80 per cent of the 360 male and female journalists who responded to the survey said they had experienced threats, abuse or violence as a result of their work in the UK.
“This included abuse, intimidation, threats of violence, violence, death threats, bullying, sexism, racism and homophobia.”
Against this background, what can Christians and churches do to support the role of the media in holding those in power to account, giving a voice to those who wider society often overlooks and fighting back against fake news and disinformation?
We also have a role in challenging the media’s reporting where we believe it to be inaccurate or biased.
I have five suggestions:
Pray for all who work in and with the media. Include prayers for the national and local press, radio and TV in your personal prayers, and those used in church. The Christians in Media network organises an annual Day of Prayer for the Media and publishes materials to help. St Bride’s in London’s Fleet Street is known as ‘The Journalists’ Church.’ It has an altar dedicated to prayer for journalists and holds special services and media events. There are also a range of organisations who campaign for media freedom around the world and are worthy of support.
Resist using terms like ‘fake news’ to describe news reports with which you disagree. Remember when you respond to, or share, news stories on social media, that real people wrote the reports, and are described in them. Value the freedom that journalists have in democracies – even if you do not always agree with their standpoints.
Encourage young people in the church to consider media careers. Competition to get into the media is high, with many young people seeing a media career as exciting and high-profile. The reality is that competition is strong, and that young people will need to work hard to gain entry. Working in the media is a worthy calling for any Christian seeking to serve the God of Truth. Christians in Media has launched a scheme to encourage young Christians beginning a media career.
Support your local media. Many local newspapers and community-based radio stations are facing strong competition for advertising from global social media companies – and are finding the going tough. Build links with your local journalists and supply them with news. Invite the editor to speak at your church. Consider advertising your special services and events. If necessary, be a critical friend.
Pay for the media you use. Christians can support high quality journalism by taking out online or print subscriptions for newspapers and magazines. That way, we help to finance high standards in journalism.
In a world of disinformation, fake news and post-truth, Christians need to be discerning in who we believe and which media we follow. We need to seek out quality journalism and support it.
We also need to seek out a range of views – including those that challenge ours – so that we have our opinions tested. Otherwise, we are living in ‘echo chambers’ where everyone agrees with us.
Jesus said the Truth would set us free. Good, high quality, journalism plays an important role in seeking out that truth – and in holding power to account. Christians can play their part in making sure journalism survives and thrives, in a world full of disinformation.
Peter Crumpler is a Church of England minister in St Albans, Herts, UK, and a former communications director for the CofE. He wrote ‘Responding to Post-truth’ (Grove Books).