Ahead of the National Day of Prayer for the Media, journalist Ali Burnett says it’s time for the Church to stop being frightened of engaging with the mainstream press


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The scene: a busy radio newsroom.

The story: Christians protesting about an occult workshop.

A reporter slams down her phone in frustration. “The workshop organiser is happy to talk, but I could only raise one of the Christians, and he said they needed to pray about it. Now he won’t talk to us.”

“Why?” demands the news editor. “God tell ’em not to, did he?”

“Something like that. They ‘didn’t feel it was right’, quote unquote. Weird, these people.”

“Fine,” says the news editor with a shrug. “Do a ‘not available for comment’. They had their chance.”

The above is, I regret to say, a true story. 

If I had £1 for every time I’ve heard something similar in my three decades working as a journalist, I could retire in luxury.

A simple misunderstanding

For example, there’s Tim Wyatt’s (entirely valid) recent claim that the charismatic wing of the Church, in particular, gets misreported. He’s spot on. Of course it does, but whose fault is that? How will the media understand us, if we don’t talk to them? What became of the biblical instruction to “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks” (1 Peter 3:15)?

Someone’s work has to be on the front page - why shouldn’t it be a Christian’s?

I can almost hear the cries of protest: “But they’ll get it wrong!” or “They’ll misquote me”. They could well do, especially if you refuse to talk. But believe it or not, most journalists are interested in getting their facts right, if only to avoid a lawsuit.

If you’ll pardon the pun, the media often gets a very bad press, and it’s not always deserved. Sure, they make mistakes. They’re just human beings, after all. So let’s start treating them as such.

It could even work to our benefit. I once interviewed a well-known entertainer, who was also a Christian. He’d made an implied criticism of a former Prime Minister and the media were all over it. When I got to his house, his driveway was full of TV crews, his kitchen an apparent war zone. When I asked how he was dealing with the press intrusion, he looked slightly puzzled: “What’s the problem?” he asked. “You bring them in, you answer their questions, you give them coffee and sandwiches, and they go away happy. They’ve got a job to do like everyone else.”

When you think about it, it was just love thy (press) neighbour (see Mark 12:31).

Telling a better story

In its best form, the media is a part of a necessary moral police force, uncovering misdeeds and holding people to account. Is that why they’re so often hated? Jesus himself said that people do wrong things under the cover of darkness (see John 3:20). Sometimes this even includes Christians.

And while we’d be the first to complain if our daily news feeds weren’t there, or our journalists were restricted, as they can be under totalitarian regimes, which of us credits the media with all the stories they get right every day?

OK, enough of the ranting. What’s the solution?

Most organisations with a message have press officers. Yet churches, who have the best news in the world, don’t. What’s that all about?

Does your church have someone whose job it is to regularly engage with local media, building relationships, drip-feeding good news as well as responsibly handling the bad? Someone commissioned, prayed for and “set apart” for the task? If not, had you thought about applying for the job? Press liaison can be a vital ministry, and training is available to help you do the job well (see saltsellers.info)

Believe it or not, most journalists are interested in getting their facts right, if only to avoid a lawsuit

Secondly, let’s encourage our talented younger generation, who have media skills most of us can only dream of, to access the top jobs. Not just online or within Christian media, but in mainstream TV, radio and news agencies, where we can be salt and light. If we are not prepared to roll up our sleeves, what right do we have to complain? Someone’s work has to be on the front pages or trending on news feeds – why shouldn’t it be a Christian’s?

Shining a light

Perhaps our neglect (or even fear) of mainstream media – specifically the tabloid and commercial sector, where I’ve worked for most of my life and found balanced, Christian views are welcomed – can be seen as disobedience to Jesus’ direct command to “let your light shine before others” (Matthew 5:16). That means everyone, not just our algorithm-influenced YouTube followers.

It is interesting to notice the motive Jesus gives for this: “that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Now that’s worth getting on board with.

Sunday 29 October is National Day of Prayer for the Media. For more information on how to join in, visit the Christians in Media website