On Monday Gateway News celebrated a decade of “telling the God stories of Africa”. Editor Andre Viljoen shares some reflections on why we should care about the news we consume
For many years an old Barlow Wadley shortwave radio receiver gathered dust at the bottom of my wardrobe, a forgotten relic of a day when some of us used to tune into the “Beeb” for reliable news updates.
I finally got rid of this dinosaur lurking among my slippers and tackies a couple of years ago, but I recall a season in my life as a newspaper correspondent in Mugabe’s newly-independent Zimbabwe when many people who distrusted local state-controlled media would use such marvels of technology to listen to BBC reports of what was happening in troubled parts of their own nation.
For all of the news industry’s longstanding love affair with sensation and bowing to the hoary mantra “bad news sells”, those were days when respected news publishers tried to uphold an ethical code that valued “fair and balanced reporting”.
Two weeks ago we published an article about the BBC, under pressure from activist groups, reluctantly withdrawing a video that tells primary school children that “there are over 100 gender identities”.
Frankly, I would not recommend that you tune into the Beeb — or other once-venerable media houses — with the help of a Barlow Wadley or Mr Google — if you want to find out what is really going on.
The code of fairness which once, like a revered, universal constitution, did much to protect journalistic integrity, is gathering dust with other relics of a past era.
Increasingly, mainstream media (and Hollywood and social media) have been aligning with narratives at odds with a Christian worldview that to some degree seep into and permeate their reporting on just about any and every topic. And they are complicit in a culture that not only does not value other perspectives but does not tolerate them and increasingly seeks to “cancel” those who dare to question them.
This steady erosion of the line between fair reporting and pushing an agenda reached unprecedented heights in the Trump era where journalists suffering from extreme TDS (Trump derangement syndrome) self-righteously justified tossing out the old textbook of journalistic ethics for the “nobler cause” of getting rid of a president they believed to be a danger to humanity.
According to a recent survey by a polling company, The Media Research Center, 17% of people who voted for Joe Biden in the recent US presidential election, said they would not have done so had they known about scandals that mainstream and social media censored. This would have changed the outcome of the election. This illustrates a key point I want to make — that the news we consume is a powerful influencer and as believers in Jesus we should be good stewards of the news we follow and support.
So keep your thoughts continually fixed on all that is authentic and real, honorable and admirable, beautiful and respectful, pure and holy, merciful and kind. And fasten your thoughts on every glorious work of God, praising him always. — Philippians 4:8 (The Passion Translation)
I have seen South Africans, including fine Christian leaders, expressing views in line with a narrative pushed by western mainstream media, which is not surprising, as they are ultimately the source of most international news provided by local news outlets.
News services everywhere often do play a valuable watchdog role in society. And no doubt there are talented and ethical journalists in their ranks.
But as a pioneering publisher of God stories I want to advocate for a higher truth: seeking to report in a way that conveys what God is saying today. The devil has always sought to distort God’s perspective and I believe that the bad report by 10 of the 12 spies sent by Moses to check out the land that God promised to His people (Numbers 12,13) was a forerunner to the “bad news sells” mantra that still accounts for many of today’s headlines. The 10 spies did not get everything wrong: they just failed to report God’s perspective that with His support they could take the land. When Joshua and Caleb shared the report of the Lord the people wanted to stone (cancel) them. Missing the report of the Lord caused a whole generation to miss their destiny.
Right now social media giants who despise Christian values are censoring and banning those who challenge the prevailing narrative of the world. Publishers like ourselves could be in line for this treatment. Taking a leaf from Communist dictators social media and mainstream media bosses are launching an army of thought police, euphemistically called “fact checkers”.
I thank God for the calling He gave me to start sharing God stories 10 years ago, and for the volunteers, supporters, colleagues and friends who have been part of this journey. I thank the Lord for igniting in me a vision that with His help we can move towards a day when billions of people are being powerfully influenced by news that fills them with hope in Jesus and aligns them with God’s dreams for them, their cities and nations.
Recently my wife, Val and I watched a programme on a US Christian media channel in which some Christian leaders shared about how God was moving mightily across the nation in spite of church lockdowns and much bleak news that was bringing fear into people’s hearts. They likened it to the Jesus Movement of the 60s and 70s and emphasised how it is so like God to move in the opposite spirit of the surroundings. We personally experienced hope arising in our hearts as a dark veil of “bad reports” was lifted to reveal the greater and glorious things that God is busy with.
As sons and daughters of God our DNA is to share good news on so many levels. We cannot afford to let the report of the world lead us into fear or confusion. The answer is not to simply switch off or unsubscribe from compromised mainstream news sources. Distrust in traditional news channels provides fertile ground for conspiracy theory platforms to arise. We need to follow, support and build credible Kingdom news alternatives.
My dream for the next decade is that we really raise the bar in reporting on what God is saying and doing in South Africa, Africa and beyond. That the Holy Spirit gives us strategies to reach more people with the report of the Lord and that Kingdom media gets the support and buy-in that it needs and deserves.