This week has been a tough week in the US. Heated debates on gun control has gotten many sides up in arms. To complicate matters, there’re also many reports of death, some manmade and others accidental. This week has also been a tough week for Hong Kong churches, as debates about politics and church heat up. The press, of course, is having a field day.
Eventually, someone is bound to blame the press, and then it happened. On particular Hong Kong mega-church pastor denounced the press on his Facebook for selling paper and splitting the church with sensational news about the Occupy Central movement. The criticism by this pastor is quite typical of Christians, whether they are conservative or liberal, but let us pick on conservatives for a moment just for fun. The criticisms usually focus on the press being subjective, non-Christian and liberal. Let me deal with each.
The first criticism is the subjectivity of the liberal press. In our newspapers, there is often the (false) distinction between investigative report and an opinion piece. The report is supposed to be “objective” eyewitness and the opinion piece is the writer’s own opinion. So, what do our objective eyewitnesses say about my city today? To the question, “How’s Seattle today?,” one might say, “Today, Seattle has a little bit of rain.” Another might say, “Today, the ground is wet. Be careful.” Still another might say, “The birds are out.” All these statements are eyewitness statements, but they also represent the experienced opinion of each speaker. Which one is more objective? We can say ALL of them are objective because all these things happen to be experienced by eyewitnesses but experienced the rainy day of Seattle differently in their report. However, let’s suppose that parts of Seattle did not rain (which happens quite often). Someone in that part would object and say, “Today, Seattle is cloudy. Rain predicted.” Where does trouble begin? It begins when the last speaker says, “My experience is true and is truly mine. All of your are subjective.” The whole “I’m more objective than you” argument presupposes that the human can see truth apart from his own experience. Such is not practical or even realistic. All of our observations are interpretive. All of our interpretations form opinions. And all of our opinions come from our experience. Thus, realistically and practically, reporting and opinion are intertwined. News reporting is not math (e.g. 1 + 1 = 2)! Therefore, when someone complains that the press is biased towards the left, right, religious and atheistic, the complaint is not tenable or measurable. The complaint itself is subjective.
The next complaint Christian people (especially many church leaders) make is that the press is non-Christian. The implication is that the press is untrustworthy, especially when it reports negatively about Christians. Just because an information-gathering service is not “Christian,” it does not mean its information is inaccurate. I wonder how many of us use encyclopedia or better yet, Wikipedia. How do we know the writers are Christians? We still use such information. How many of us have been lied to by Christians? Many of us have. In fact, I have also heard pastors disparage Christian media such as Christianity Today in the US or Christian Times of Hong Kong. So, are we more selective in when and how we denounce? Do we denounce when the news just does not fit our grid? Thus, the whole “Christians are more trustworthy” myth should simply go the way of the dinosaurs. To denounce someone for religious reason is just self-righteousness.
The final complaint is against the “liberal” bent of the media. What’s the definition of “liberal” anyway? One person’s liberal is another person’s conservative. The sliding scale is as slippery as the labels “objective” and “subjective.” If by “liberal” we mean the media is always pushing the boundary of freedom, then it is only doing its job. Think about it. The whole idea of media is dependent on free speech and free expression. If we accuse the media of being liberal, we are merely saying that the media is fighting for its own existence and doing its job too well. What’s wrong with that? I bet North Korea’s media is pretty rubbish. Why? There is no freedom of speech in North Korea. Those guys are completely “conservative.” The very fact any Christian pastor can criticize the media is based on free speech on which free media is based. There is your irony! Some people want to exercise their own freedom by limiting freedom of others. There is our problem.
Having deconstructed the warped logic of such naysayers against the media, we must all know that the media is a business. Its main job is to find stories to report on so that it can sell papers. Sadly, for some, church is also a business. When the media business trespasses on the church business, the church business does not like it. We have two choices, as we face the media challenge. We could well stop reading the “liberal non-Christian, subjective” media or we can do some good stuff that’s worthy of the good news we preach for them to report. I don’t believe they won’t report it. You know why? I just saw a report today in the tabloid paper Apple Daily interviewing my friend who is also a minister. I may also remind my readers that the same paper reported on my student’s work among the poor in Hong Kong a while back. Yes, the liberal media! Imagine that! If we practice our “good news” in public, then the media can report on our “good news” instead of our “good news turned bad news.”
PS: Here is the response by Apple Daily.