“It is a truism to say that the media in general, and TV in particular…are incomparably the greatest single influence in our society today…This influence [is] largely exerted irresponsibly, arbitrarily, and without reference to any moral or intellectual, still less spiritual, guidelines whatsoever. Furthermore, if it is the case, as I believe, that what we still call Western civilization is fast disintegrating, then the media are playing a major role in the process by carrying out, albeit for the most part unconsciously, a mighty brainwashing operation, whereby all traditional standards and values are being denigrated to the point of disappearing, leaving a moral vacuum in which the very concepts of Good and Evil have ceased to have any validity.”
Malcolm Muggeridge, Christ and the Media
“Future historians will surely see us as having created in the media a Frankenstein monster which no one knows how to control or direct, and marvel that we should have so meekly subjected ourselves to its destructive and often malign influence.”
Muggeridge’s prophetic words illuminate the most fundamental issue of the media in our time. In his incisive book, Christ and the Media, Muggeridge quotes the scripture
“Hearing, ye shall hear and shall not understand, and seeing, ye shall see, and not perceive, for the heart of these people is waxed gross and their eyes are dull of hearing and their eyes have they closed, lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts.”
“Paul went on to point to the Christian revelation as being the only means of making eyes truly see, and ears truly hear; of, as it were, bringing into sync the crazy world of Nero’s Rome. By the same token, I am more convinced than of anything else that I have ever taught, or considered, or believed, that the only antidote to the media’s world of fantasy is the reality of Christ’s Kingdom proclaimed in the New Testament.”
Muggeridge was a British writer, editor of Punch magazine, and producer of numerous TV documentaries for the BBC. With characteristic wit and irony he examined the media – especially the TV documentary – from the inside.
Television’s power to deceive is that it promotes thoughtless acceptance – it is active, listeners are passive (unlike a newspaper, where the reader’s mind is more engaged). In living color, sound and action, we see events unfolding “before our very eyes” – as though we were on-the-scene witnesses. Often the stories engage our emotion with human suffering and struggle, or worse, with human violence and debauchery. Unthinking, we accept what we see as truth.
Muggeridge describes the camera:
“On the prowl for news, what the camera wants is an exciting or dramatic scene which will hold viewers, thus bringing into play its own particular expertise. Pictures are all. If there is a footage available of, say, an air disaster, that takes precedence as news over some other disaster – say, of an earthquake – of which there is no available footage…Famines only occur when they have been filmed, the others – and there are many, alas – are likely to continue unnoticed. News cameramen want to lead the TV news bulletins as reporters want to lead the front page of the newspapers they serve, and are always on the look-out for some scene which will photograph strikingly. The temptation to set one up is correspondingly very great. When the Berlin Wall was completed, two vopos – East German policemen – decided to jump off it into West Berlin. I was told by the cameramen present on the occasion that they had to jump three times before their performance was considered to be visually satisfactory.”
“As for the words that accompany the pictures, they have, of course, to be edited down and made to fit, and so are as malleable as the footage, if not more so. There are many authenticated cases of word-faking, like picture-faking. In the case, for instance, of the award-winning television programme The Selling of the Pentagon, some of the interviews have been shown to be edited in such a way that gives a completely false impression of what was actually said. It goes without saying that none of the awards were withdrawn when the faking was exposed. Nor did the esteem in which the programme was held, diminish.”
“Fake News” it seems, has been with us for decades – we (most of us) just didn’t know it.