The whole conference was structured around 2 questions:
- What impact does the media have upon society?
- What impact do people of faith have on the media?
Opening Video Address: Right Hon Tony Blair
Tony Blair provided a video address to open the conference, talking about the impact that the media can have, both negative and positive – it’s possible to transmit hatred and reinforce stereotypes. With such a wide reach, it’s vital that the media has strong internal (Christian) voices which affect the cultural DNA of such organisations, within the big worldview. We live in a globalised world where the media never stops, and we need to be a part of those debates and interaction, suggesting deeper interaction, rather than the surface stories.
Opening Address: Baroness Scotland
Baroness Scotland spoke, introducing her talk with the idea that the media would present the idea that journalism is a faith-free zone. However, there’s at least 100 people at this conference: are we all figments of the imagination?
Other politicians may say that “We don’t do God” [Alastair Campbell!], and say it’s a matter of personal choice, but Baroness Scotland says that it colours everything she does, and she can’t help it colouring her conversations also.
You can read Nick Baines report here.
What is the Media doing to…
Our politics (John Lloyd)
- Politicians are necessary, we should value them for their ability to compromise! Extremists are not capable of compromise.
- We can do politics quite well in the media, but we tend to cut a lot of it down into personalities/scandals, etc.
- Of course there’s a lot in the news at the moment about the expenses scandal, but we do elect people (not robots!) and most were using the system with a nod/wink as was expected, rather than flagrantly reusing it as such. Now it’s a question of how they regain our trust!
- What are the media doing to shape public thinking? The media constructs what are the most important things in our world, especially now – when you see how we’re connected to it hour-by-hour!
Our media and young people (Pastor Nims Obunge)
- The media has created a sense of fear, but the newspapers have noted that if they fill the papers with good news, their sales drop.
- We have allowed the media to control us. Does the media fail to show us what truly goes on in urban spaces. Young black people feel labelled!
- Social media is great for young people to share ideas.
- Nims has low trust himself in th emedia, especially if he does pre-recorded interviews, as they tend towards sensationalism.
- Wants the media to report more excellence, empowering people, rather than keep reporting the bad stuff.
God (Professor Mona Siddiqui)
- The media, big as it is, is not doing anything to God, but has to the way we talk about Him.
- The media industry carries the moral burden of the communications business.
- The religious/secular divide is emphasised in the media – differences are emphasised, but all largely share the same concerns.
- Often the media see asking SOMEONE from that faith to talk as having “done the job”, but we need more intellectual rigour.
- Globalisation is a mistake, as there’s a tendency to “do more religious stuff”, where members make statements on behalf of their own religion, although this may not be agreed by their religion. Inter-religion is fashionable.
- The job of theology is not to observe the world, but to change it. Those working within the media can’t aim for neutrality/impartiality, but should use that power.
- Mona only uses blogs to read about how she’s been received by others: “how did you hear me?”. Blogs are for conversations, rather than about “spreading the message”.
Online/New Media Strand (part 1)
Claire McArthur, in charge of strategy/editorial for the BBC’s local websites chaired this panel, run over 2 sessions
Claire McArthur, in charge of strategy/editorial for the BBC’s local websites chaired this panel, run over 2 sessions
- Is about monitoring reputations, does one size(site) fit all?
- Is the Vatican leading the way in the use of New Media?
- Communities can be built across the web. Institutions need to embrace the possibilities to allow faith to grow – don’t treat the online world like a Sunday worshipper!
- Shane Hipps, Flickering Pixels: The Hidden Power of Electronic Culture
- In the digital age we are “a tribe of individuals”, maybe “an imagined community” [A phrase first created by Benedict Anderson, as I drew upon in my PhD thesis!]
- How has language evolved? We need to sustain more friendships at once (see Robin Dunbar).
- Does it create anti-social isolation? Should create an extra support, not replace it!
- What are others in church doing? What is this doing to our social world in church (e.g. does Facebook help to deepen those friendships we already have, and reach out to those who may be more shy, getting to know others before joining in person?)? Do we opt out of life because of the online – or (as research seems to be demonstrating) we are watching less TV, and nurturing friendships more online.
- How do we turn around the negativity surrounding this debate (it’s the horror stories that make the press), and take the opportunities available?
- Online, really need to talk about what you’re genuinely interested in, becomes obvious pretty quickly if you’re not!
- Propagation (which is what many churches/Christian organisations have traditionally done) is top-down, whereas social media is very much bottom up. How do you monitor what’s online, and if you simply cut off the opportunity to monitor conversations, does it simply turn up somewhere else, where you don’t even have the opportunity to respond to it? It’s a space for communities to debate!
- How do you get the word out? How do you get people excited/contributing?
- What about using Facebook ads? They are about 20-40p per click, can follow the click trail, and set a limit!
- Claire gave us insights into some research that the BBC had done into the Susan Boyle phenomenon, and who was benefiting from that online (and thus what can be learnt from it). Can see just how fast the phenomenon moved, and notice that YouTube, rather than the official ITV Britain’s Got Talent website was picking up most of the traffic!
- Can use Hitwise data to search for the terms that people are ACTUALLY using, rather than guessing what they might use. In many ways the Susan Boyle coverage is positive, she was liked, and demonstrates a real interest in what it is to be human, and churches need to make more of that.
- Dangers of becoming insular in content, what about the relevance of what you’re posting, the danger of becoming an “exclusive club”, when the online world is very much about embracing inclusivity.
- Don’t FEAR LOSING CONTROL, it’s already lost!
ext session, going to be more practical discussions on what churches can do to use social media, and bear in mind that it’s not just for those who are already converted!
Public Service Broadcasting
- Public Service Broadcasting (PSB) is designed as broadcasting for the public good, rather than commercial gain.
- The BBC’s remit is to educate, inform and entertain. ITV/Channel 4 also have remits.
- Globally, broadsheets and broadcasters are crashing, the death of the South Bank Show is a big signal that PSB is maybe going with it.
- The ITV franchise was originally seen as a “licence to print money”, and partly in response to this, it was forced to produce PSB, responsibilities which it is now seeking to lose.
- Newspapers have lost readers/advertising revenue, and are moving from paper to online.
- Affects are felt due both to the digital switchover and the economic crisis.
- It’s not all gloom: catch-up TV is a great boon for consumers (able to repeatedly view, and in their own time), which makes the licence fee a better value; the creative and digital industries are growing as manufacturing/finance drops; the digital age offers a wider view of PSB! It’s still alive and well, but not necessarily where you’re expect to find it!
Philip Graf (OfCom)
- As global news grows, the desire for information on local life grows. 8/10 want local news and weather, 6/10 want to know about local life/community. Local press has been in long-term decline, especially as advertising has moved from small brands to High Street chains. Small ads have moved online, and ITV news is not expected to continue after 2011. The internet/local TV haven’t devised sustainable models.
- The BBC have offered their studios to ITV to enable ITV to continue PBS broadcasts, but more is needed. Is more regulation needed. It is clear that the current system is now broken!
- Conventional linear broadcasting doesn’t provide what’s needed, and content has increasingly moved online, but the infrastructure doesn’t really support initiatives, and won’t unless the ROI demonstrates that it’s worth investing.
- 4G mobiles will drive a whole new range of content. The iPhone is the start of a new generation of phones. 24% of under 25s still listen to radio – strategically important.
- A plurality of provision is required to meet needs. Tools exist, we need to find ways of using them
Launching the Church and Media Network (Andrew Graystone/Joel Edwards)
- Great to offer encouragement, e.g. sending texts to broadcasters as they step away from the microphone (when insecurity about what have just broadcast hits).
- The network is a forum to bring together broadcasting/Christianity, finding fellowship, be sharpened up, have a voice.
- What does it mean to be a Christian in public spaces, moving from the defensive to the missional!
- A bridge between the Christian community and media institutions, offers opportunities for creative engagement.
- The previous organisation met annually, but this doesn’t fit how media now works. It now requires an all-year role. Designed to be a lively, accessible, pastoral service to those working in the media.
- Intention is to engage widely with Christians to engage with the media better. Offering digital literacy in faith communities is key.
- Provides continuity from the previous model, not discarding it!
Online/New Media Strand (part 2)
- Discussion 1: Ideas for institutions to embrace social media/let go of control.
- Discussion 2: Practical ideas as to how social media can be used.
- See a preview of Google Wave, going to be the next big thing likely to transform social media!
- Slowly create content, then let others claim credit for it when it becomes successful. If they think they’ve had a hand in creating it, probably be more enthusiastic!
- Try experimenting with blogging, especially if it’s a time-bound event (e.g. a church weekend away). Give yourselves permission to fail. Celebrate an event!
- Mobile phones offer the option of live streaming, e.g. Qik and 12seconds.
- Are a lot of worries about people creating havoc/inappropriate content online, but think how you’d deal with those people in church – sit them down and have a chat. If you shut something down, it’s not good. The conversation is simply likely to pop up somewhere else!
- Actively engage with quotes (expand), give your church a positive profile, demonstrate public/community engagement.
- We think there’s a seperate conference in this: See Christianity in the Digital Space, Durham, 13-15 July (I’ll be there)
Googling God (Evangelical Alliance)
- “This is Christianity”: A plan for a website to make it easier for reporteres to report faith well (as with budgets shrinking it’s much less likely that newspapers, etc. will have proper faith reporters. New site in the planning to act as a web portal for journalists, a quick reference guide, links to mainstream Christian organisations, and training courses for journalists.
- Local churches need to get to know their local journalists as the church doesn’t realise its own power. Many journalists are scared of reporting on religion, invite them in to report on your activities.
- “IKOS”, the idea of an online space where Press Officers for Christian organisations can work together, be well-trained to engage with mainstream media.
Nick Booth (Social Capital)
- How access to informatio has changed through e.g. Marconi, Berners-Lee
- In 2006 the world produced 3 million times the information contained in all books ever written! Supply and demand are no longer scarce! There is clearly a power and a desire to publish.
- Is a lot of local volunteer media, which have respectable audiences. It’s easy to spread/support local issues, as there are many willing to supply information, offering a patchwork of local storytelling.
- Great for collaborative invesigative journalism, as with crowd-sourcing, can say “Help me investigate x”. Can identify layers of expertise in active citizens.
- Technology – helps to build strong relationships, and is not alienating.
- Twitter helps us find people, making us social capital millionaires.
- Online world is increasing a trend towards transparency (but what about protecting souces?).
- It’s a great habit to put half a story up, ask people, what else can you add? Accept that a story is never finished!
Paul Jackson (formerly of EA, Video Games)
- Serious technologies are changing the way that people relate.
- The “received wisdom” is that those buying video games are young kids who are playing violent games. The average
age of those buying games is 28, and under 3% of games released have an 18 certificate. This is important as then we can address issues where they really are, rather than where we presume them to be.
- Paul was the man behind FIFA in 1991, which was hugely successful!
- World of Warcraft – has 10 million playing. Involves raising demons, etc. Why are Christians not talking about this.
- Whizz.com offers flash-based maths. Why are we not building these kind of applications for Christianity. Meet the kids where they really are…
- Digital Britain, looking forward to the idea that the internet will be accessible (by rights) as much as clean water is.
- What about privacy issues? 200 years ago you lived in a village where everyone knew your business. It’s only 150 years ago that anonyminity became the norm. There’s now another culture shift and we’re returning to the natural condition. Anonymity is dangerous.
- Market Research – idea is that we will know what you’re thinking when you don’t know what you’re thinking!
- Dream is to see this newly hatched radio station providing slots that are usable on secular radio stations (yes, Christian focused).
- The young have few or negative values around them. So wants to take the opportunity to explore positive values(fruits of the spirit) through this website.
- Expected that the audience will be primarily non-Christian, and in the 16-35 age group (wide spread, real changes in lifestyle, can hit such a wide range?)
- Mostly not overtly Christian music, then looking to other organisations (e.g. Salvation Army, Youth for Christ) to help provide content.
- Advocacy is about trying to change the world, opening up a space for political possibilities where a space didn’t previously exist.
- Now is the best chance for a new world order. The crisis offfers a moment of opportunity to change the financial architecture. Maintain that global view, not insularity.
- Christian theology – often starts to make sense from the perspective of the marginalised.
- Where is the power located? Institutions? The masses?
- It is easy to be “power neutral”, accepting the status quo as a given, but with power loaded against the poor – whose side does that put you on?
- Who is left as our moral compass? The media? Christians?
- In publicity for World Vision, is care taken with the choice of images, respecting the dignity of those depicted. Don’t want to objectify the individual. Are we trivialising their dignity as NGOs try to get across serious messages?
- The essential value is HOPE (not optimism) and where’s there’s football there’s hope! HOPE needs to act as an adversary to cynicism.
- The media says that it simply “reflects society” – who are you kidding? It’s not power neutral, it reinforces the status quo. “All that is required for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing.” (Edward Burke). It’s impossible to be impartial and objective, as values/judgements are there all the time!
- See the website produced by the Academy trainees (3 on the web stream, collating information from the video and audio streams) http://angelsanddemonsshow.wordpress.com/
Closing Session (Andrew Graystone)
- Edward Stourton was meant to be providing a keynote address, but due to a Tube Strike, had been unable to get his train out of London in time. Due to the wonders of modern technology we had a brief webcast with him!
- Andrew Graystone returned to reality TV to bring together the conference, identifying that humiliation has had a place in low culture for years, but that more recent reality TV has producers taking an active role in that humiliation. The sheer numbers, and the power of presenters such as Simon Cowell has taken it to a new level.
- What is the power of human impact, on those participating, on those directing, etc. What about ordinary members of the public who have not come along to partake in the show, but simply to observe it? What impact might it have on them when a certain expression makes a point (e.g. the girl’s shock at Susan Boyle), what’s going to happen to her as her image circulates YouTube? She’d signed up for an evening’s entertainment and the producer has used her as an icon of the public’s reactions. We don’t even know if that image was used in sync!
- The average age of a producer on the BBC is 27, what does that producer do for you? With the short-term nature of TV contracts, how does this impact the ethics of production design? We can alter another human beings story by pressing a button, we forget that these are not actors, but real people with real fears.
- What about the sacred unity of the human personality? With online churches, there has been the option to be someone else/who you want to be? But what is the impact of these fragmented identities?
- How do we live well as a Christian in the digital environment?
- The session then broke into talk-circles which produced some of the following outcomes.