Across the Western world there is a growing sentiment that we are living in an age of fake news. Survey data backs this up. In a 2021 global survey asking about media trust, only 43 per cent of Australians said they trust mainstream reporting. Americans fared far worse, at 39 per cent.
Though we might long for the ‘good old days’ when the TV and newspapers mostly told us the truth, those days are gone. The legacy media is no longer trusted or particularly trustworthy. Christians now have a responsibility to consume the news as though editors and journalists were trying to influence their beliefs, worldview and vote — because that is what’s happening.
This raises the stakes in the political sphere, too. Never has a Christian political party like the Australian Christians been more needed. Where so many politicians simply regurgitate fake news headlines to justify their agendas, the Australian Christians seek to reflect the values of heaven in our policies and deal truthfully with the realities of the world around us.
One of the pillars of democracy is a free press. The Australian way of life can only continue with a media that properly scrutinises all sides of politics and the most powerful institutions in our society. A major lesson of history is that without a free and honest press, governments tend towards tyranny, and are able to oppress their own people without opposition from the deceived masses.
The free press is quite a biblical concept. In the Old Testament, the prophets were God’s mouthpiece for the truth. The Lord raised up prophets to hold Israel’s leadership to account without fear or favour. The prophets gave divine affirmation when leaders did what was right, but they rebuked kings and even the whole nation when God’s people acted unjustly.
To be clear, journalism is not a God-appointed office. We do not have a perfect analogy between journalism and the role of prophets in Scripture. However, in the democratic West, the notion of a free press was largely inspired by this biblical precedent.
It was our Christian past that enabled Australians to have a built-in trust that the media would do its job and hold each government to account, regardless of its political affiliations. Sadly, the Christian consensus in Western nations has faded — and along with it, the honesty and integrity of the press has faded too.
In place of a Christian consensus is a morass of postmodernism. Now anything can be ‘true’ because truth is relative. I have my truth and you have yours, even if our ‘truths’ contradict.
The majority of today’s journalists and newsroom editors went through universities — and grew up in a culture — that taught them to think as postmodernists. As a result, they are far less likely to interrogate their own biases. Instead, their career has become a way to express who they are and what they believe. Overwhelmingly, those working in the legacy press hope to form public opinion rather than inform it.
Today’s newsrooms are filled with progressive elites who inhabit a different world from most of their readers. The legacy media has become an echo chamber where editors and journalists tell themselves and each other what they want to hear. This spills over into politics, where bad, unchecked policies end up hurting families, children, the elderly and the vulnerable.
To be sure, the legacy media can still be useful and accurate for many things, such as weather, sport, local events and regional issues. But when it comes to politics and worldview, the mainstream press has been too dishonest too often to continue being trusted without question.
Just as in Israel’s day, there are not just true prophets but false prophets in our midst too. They have the nation’s trust but they have traded the truth for human ‘wisdom’ which is doing damage to society. There is no easy solution to the scourge of fake news. But supporting Christian political parties like the Australian Christians encourages more truth telling in the public square and helps revitalise the Christian consensus upon which a free press depends.