Father Tim and the power of the Media

Tuesday, 5th January 2010 at 9:00 UTC 2 comments

I suppose it was inevitable that I would get round to writing about this topic eventually. The brief flurry of press coverage Father Tim’s now-famous sermon received came just as I was sleeping off the effects of Copenhagen, and so almost got missed in the hurry to try and write up my experiences. I want to pick out just one aspect at this stage: the relationship between Church and Media.

I’ve known Tim for some years, and have had conversations with him about how the press can be engaged in the work and words of the Church in the past. I was amazed at how he handled himself throughout the first of his encounters with media interest: his struggle with Stationery Box over the Playboy Children’s Stationery Range.

The Church of England is not known for its positive relationship with the Media. It rarely manages its press image very effectively for starters. But it really doesn’t’ have to be this way. I would identify the current state of Church-Press relations as little better than Church-Rock Music relations around the time John Lennon declared that the Beatles were about to be bigger than Jesus Christ. Its a sort of “hide and hope they don’t mention us” attitude, in which active disengagement seems to be the top priority. It seems almost as if the Press couldn’t possibly have anything good to say about us.

First, this is odd because we are supposed to have faith in the goodness and value of the Gospel, and second because, although we are given words of caution about our conduct when in the limelight, we are supposed to let our light shine, to be like a city on a hill, visible for miles around.

I also know that a relationship with the media can be turned around. The coverage of the protests has shifted dramatically as the voices of cynicism towards the media have softened and those wanting active engagement have won out. I firmly believe that this should be a model for the Church. The change didn’t come over night, and involved some painful moments and hard fought internal debates.

I think there are a couple of very specific reasons why this has become a problem for the church. First and foremost, its got something to do with the career choices of Christians. There really is a deficit of Christians in the media, created and maintained largely by older generations of church goers endlessly berating the media’s failings.

When I make a statement about politics, people often say “oh, you have to change it from the inside”. Well, oddly, no one seems to apply that to the media. They apply it to Parliament, to banks and even the army. They never quite seem to bother applying it to the media. Perhaps someone wants to explain that to me, because it makes no sense whatsoever.

The Church in Britain today has lots to celebrate, especially on a local level. I do think its time that the Church brought itself up to speed and got itself a decent level of coverage. Part of this will involve creative thinking, developing an eye for potential messaging, building better relationships and feeding stories through in a more positive way.

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Entry filed under: Church, Community, Media, News.

Should the Church work for social or political change? The rise in private policing

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Lois  |  Tuesday, 5th January 2010 at 13:48 UTC

    Agree- and really hope this happens soon! Sadly it’s much easier to tell a bad story- a scandal, a failure- than a good one.

    I do know a few Christians work in local media (the Press, Radio York). Hopefully there are some in national media too- and that they’re not afraid to stand up and tell the good stories- and that their editors will let them.

    Reply
  • 2. betty  |  Tuesday, 5th January 2010 at 16:08 UTC

    Here’s some positive Christians+Press stuff off the tops of my head.
    Matthew “Woody” Woodcock! He was the religious back door into the Press for years. And then he was Dr John’s press relations guy for a while. Don’t know what he’s up to now.
    Alex Wilmot went off to work in the press somewhere didn’t he?
    And the BBC Russian Serivce Moscow based producer is a Christian.
    So to is Reuters newest TV production trainee.
    And we all remember Emily then Swiatek’s five minutes of baptism fame on the BBC.

    Ok yes, I am picking out small examples here.

    I disagree with this statement – ‘There really is a deficit of Christians in the media, created and maintained largely by older generations of church goers endlessly berating the media’s failings.’

    – So, lets blame the old people for ruining the young people’s ambiritons? Surely the society wide generational conflict is present in the church, and actually even bigger inside the church than out, I mean, the old guys in a church disagreeing doesn’t tend to stop the young one from doing it anyway.

    ‘I would identify the current state of Church-Press relations as little better than Church-Rock Music relations around the time John Lennon declared that the Beatles were about to be bigger than Jesus Christ. ‘ – No, it’s definitely better than that, at least the church is willing to engage with the media at some level, even though yes, everything could be a whole lot better.

    What exactly do you mean by press anyway? Do you mean “news journalism”? Or do you have a wider definition, including other sources of media, such as the “comment is free” section of the newspaper, slower-moving “magazine feature journalism”, advertising, mainstream TV?

    Your change it from the inside point – yes, probably. People are quite selective about selecting solutions to problems. Army – yes, change it from within. The sex trade – get out. The oft cited US example is race-segregation doesn’t need legislation, just people need to meet people from other races to change their stereotypes, but abortion and teenage pregnancy – tough legislation is so the answer. But I suppose the structure of politics in the UK is such that changing it from the inside is the way the whole thing is supposed to work, democracy and all that.

    If Mr-Average’s response to the media is to not change it from the inside, in your experience, what is his suggestion?

    Do you have any evidence for your perceptions? For example, percentage of total population who are Christian, versus, percentage of people working in the media who are Christian? What examples can you give to demonstrate this ‘”hide and hope they don’t mention us” attitude’?

    I feel like I’m being overly critical, but really I think I broadly agree with you that the church-media relationship needs improving. However, what’s your argument? What are the causes, what are the specific failings that need addressing, how could this be done, and what success stories have you seen in the past wiith the relationship between the press and activism? Which of their lessons would be applicable to the church’s current situation?

    Reply

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