[I contributed this week’s ‘Connecting with Culture’ from the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity. There were a number of possible topics to write about this week, including the London mayoral and local elections, and the first anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden, but I opted to reflect on World Press Freedom Day.]
World Press Freedom Day, observed annually on 3 May, was established by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1993. It provides an opportunity to celebrate the principle of press freedom, draw attention to those areas of the world where such freedom continues to be repressed, and pay tribute to journalists who have faced harassment, imprisonment, or even death to bring news to the global public.
Proceedings surrounding this year’s World Press Freedom Day are considering the power of media freedom to ‘transform societies’. That might sound somewhat grandiose were it not for recent events in North Africa and the Middle East. News of the self-immolation of Mohammed Bouazizi, a vegetable peddler in Tunisia – following the confiscation of his cart by the authorities – went viral through a convergence of mobile technology, social media and satellite TV, lighting the touch paper of unrest, arguably giving birth to what became known as the Arab Spring.
Back in the UK, somewhat ironically, the Leveson Inquiry into ‘the culture, practice and ethics of the press’ rumbles on. The full report is still to come, but the process has already reminded us that freedom can be abused, that there is a line between careful investigative journalism and callous invasion of privacy. Perhaps we have also seen something of our own complicity in sustaining a culture which expects access to news of the scandals and tragedies of others.
At the same time, it would be unhelpful if the Leveson Inquiry demonised journalists and discredited their profession. Those whose understanding of the world is nurtured by Scripture know that journalism (like sex, money and politics) is not inherently evil in itself, but can directed in beneficial ways and misdirected in harmful ways. And those whose lives are shaped by the good news of God’s work of restoration begun in Christ can be confident that in this arena (as with sex, money and politics), redemption is possible.
Indeed, signs of God’s grace can be seen in every instance of truth-telling, of professional integrity, of communicative skill, of honest reporting which treats people with dignity and serves the welfare of others. And we can pray for and support those who work hard to do this, often in difficult circumstances, confident that in God’s grand design ‘there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open’ (Luke 8:17).