Thought for the Day - Rhidian Brook
I was recently at a private function that was reported in a national newspaper by a journalist that clearly wasn’t at the event. The presence of a few celebrities had made some sort of speculative coverage inevitable. But the paper’s description of what happened bore little relation to the reality. Mixed in with some general facts, the article mentioned the names of people that weren’t there and things that didn’t happen, and it did so with the authority and certainty of a trustworthy witness. It was convincing enough for a couple of friends to ring and ask me if those things were really true.
Some will say that it doesn’t really matter if a newspaper takes half a page to tell its readers about an event without actually telling the whole truth. Why let a few facts get in the way of a good story. Just as long nothing unpleasant is said, nothing is written than might lead to a lawsuit. If people are entertained enough, who cares? They shouldn’t believe everything they read in newspapers anyway.
Except that people – me included – often do. Trivial things. Profound things. What people read helps form judgement and shape opinion. Which is why it’s so vital that papers take truth seriously. This is a week in which the Leveson Inquiry reaches a key phase. And if it has shown us anything it is the importance - both to society and the individual - of a reliable and trustworthy witness. It might seem wise not to believe everything you read, but it’s good not to have to doubt the veracity of everything that’s printed. There are some stories that are too important not to be trusted.
For instance, if you read a story about a private function where, towards the end of the evening, a man turned six vats of water in to wine, you’d probably want to get a few facts straight: where was did this happen, what day was it? What did the wine taste like? How much water did he change? And – perhaps most importantly – who was this guy? Such an event is, of course, reported in some detail in John’s gospel: it was a wedding that took place on a Tuesday in Cana, where a man turned 180 gallons of water into a wine so good the host asked why the best stuff had been kept till last. And as for the man’s name…
Of course, there’s every chance that someone made all of this up for the sake of a good story. But for some reason it’s a story a lot of people still – two thousand years on -believe and take seriously. And if you were looking for symbolic proof of this you need look no further than the Leveson Inquiry itself. For it’s a story that appears in the book that most witnesses – media moguls, ministers and movie stars – place their hand on when they swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.