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Apart from the basic freedoms connected with ongoing events in North Africa and the Middle East – which were commented on in an earlier column in this series – other, psychological freedoms are also being upheld. One example is the freedom to know the truth. This has been brought into focus by the News of the World phone hacking scandal.
A serious side effect of using gossip and sensationalism to boost newspaper circulation figures is that the crucially important issues of our present time can become marginalised in the popular press. The pity of this is that a deep human characteristic – the desire to enquire, to understand and to know – is misused and wasted. Given the right information, people can and do respond in imaginative and creative ways and with the necessary depth and compassion that are needed to transform our values and social structures.
The media is incredibly powerful in moulding public opinion and influencing the political process. So much so that wealthy business magnates are keen to own vast swathes of it. But if the media can direct public opinion in order to support the self interest of its owners, then equally the media can be a wonderful instrument to support the expansion of human consciousness and deepen our sense of relationship with the world and one another.
Used well, the media can bring us into contact with the lives of people in every part of the world. It can acquaint us with the shared values of the many cultures that weave the colourfully varied tapestry of human life on our planet. In this way it highlights the rich diversity of our species and promotes a sense of deepening relationship by showing that the same emotions and sensitivities run through all people. The natural outcome of this is huge amounts of empathy and goodwill and a constructive interaction between different nations and cultures.
But we need unfiltered, unbiased reporting to help cultivate this sense of relationship. And we need to remember that when there is manipulation and distortion of the truth by the media, it can divide, fragment and debase on a similarly large scale. This poses a real and insidious threat to the psychological freedom of humanity.
Perhaps our default view in the west is that what we read in the papers or on news websites, see on TV or hear on the radio is near enough true. But people who have been involved in something reported in the media are sometimes surprised to find that the reports don’t exactly match their personal experience of the event. And when we remember that many professionals in the media appear to believe that good news is not newsworthy, we might indeed become suspicious about the daily diet of news that we are being fed.
But perhaps this can encourage us to discriminate and not to accept at face value what the media presents. If so, here, paraphrased from an ancient spiritual teaching, is a useful rule of thumb: Diminish by a factor of ten all the bad we know, and increase by a factor of ten all the good we know – perhaps this might help us to gain a truer picture of the reality?
It might also help us realise that the gloom that many feel about the future for humanity and the planet need not be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Humanity is better than we are led to believe. Goodwill can, does and will transform communities. There is much to be practical and hopeful about, and good news is the best news there is.