We’ve fallen in love with soundbites and need a dramatic turnaround back to the importance of substance…
That was BBC political correspondent Nick Robinson’s warning when he gave the inaugural Brian Redhead lecture on politics and the media recently. Of course that’s my own soundbite summary, but his point was a perceptive one, certainly applicable for politics but with far more wide-ranging implications as well.
Robinson was arguing that our politicians don’t currently have enough space to properly explain their arguments and positions, and are instead being forced into short and snappy ‘made-for-press’ summaries to feed a media hungry for conflict, spin and sleaze. In a plea for more in-depth presentation, for discussion and debate rather than this current trend for controversy and hype, Robinson suggested more time be given over to explaining politicians’ policies on TV, and even dedicated channels that allow politicians themselves to express further depth ‘before those ideas are [then] dissected by the best interviewers or attacked by their opponents or derided on tweets or blogs.’
It’s a trend we could all do with being more aware of, particularly in the media’s relations with Christianity, as well as in Christian ministry itself. An example of the media’s tendency to do this to Christians is picked up by Adrian Reynolds, over at The Proclaimer, who has been reflecting on coverage of the women bishops debate. He notes that evangelicals often don’t seem to get a fair hearing in the press, and suggests this may be in part because ‘in a sound bite world, our biblical arguments are too hard for people’. I think there’s merit in his point.
Like Robinson says, as a culture it seems we’re increasingly guilty of dismissing the virtue of being ‘thought through’. I’m not talking about the person staunchly holding to a particular position, hands over their ears and eyes closed, like the child insolently declaring ‘I’m not listening!’ Obviously thinking should naturally involve listening and further engagement. But in some quarters to have convictions formed, and to have based them upon considered argument, can be seen at best as negative and at worst as mere pedantry. To be reasoned is equated with being bookish and dry; we don’t want to be persuaded by argument, instead we want to be entertained by enthusiasm, punch and panache.