The media activities of Rupert Murdoch around the world have long been contentious. In recent times the criticisms have reached a new height to the point that some commentators are predicting that there will be major changes ahead in the regulation of the commercial media. Not all media is bad. Catholica editor, Brian Coyne, would like to put in a good word for the valuable role played by our public media which isn't primarily driven by ratings and the profit motive.
Three programs that have led to this commentary…
On Monday night just gone I watched two programs on ABC1 — the main television channel of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation — Australian Story and Four Corners. I was so moved by both programs that I was going to draw attention to them on the Catholica Forum but my own busy schedule at the moment got in the way and I didn't get around to it. Last night the ABC broadcast the first episode of a new series, Judith Lucy's Spiritual Journey. The Corporation has categorized it as entertainment but I think it could just as responsibly been classified as "important social commentary".
For the benefit of readers who are not aware of Judith Lucy or this program, and those far distant from Australia, could I provide a very quick synopsis...
Judith Lucy is a comedian. She was raised as a Catholic, became an atheist and today she claims in the program she's not quite sure what she believes. The program is a comical journey through her life mixed in with semi-serious pieces where she interviews real live nuns — and came away impressed — and, so far, one Jesuit priest, one former priest, and a lot of other people and situations she has intersected with in her life, and spiritual, journey.
The program IS seriously entertaining — and I recommend it for anyone who is game enough to laugh at themselves and the Catholic culture that did so much to form us as individuals. I also think there are some more serious lessons we might learn from the program. Before I discuss those though let me draw out some of the lessons I was moved by on Monday night in the Australian Story and Four Corners programs.
An inspiring story...
Australian Story has become an iconic program in the ABC's line-up of programs. The program explores the lives of people caught up in interesting, often tragic situations, and how they and their families and friends coped. The long-running series owes much to the inspiration of veteran journalist and program maker, Caroline Jones, who hosted an earlier radio series that had a big focus on people's spirituality. Australian Story is not as overtly a program about spirituality or religion but it has a massive focus on the human spirit — what drives people, and what enables different people to cope in difficult life situations.
Monday's program "Trust Me, Mr Chandler" is given this introduction on the program's website:
This week's program tells the story of international banker Sascha Chandler and a secret he'd harboured since childhood. Two years ago he decided to deal with his demons and joined forces with a dogged New South Wales detective to bring to justice one of the country's most elusive and dangerous predators. Andrew McIntosh had managed to escape the authorities over and over again.
Yes, its a story about sexual and psychological abuse. In many cases childhood abuse leaves the victims powerless and can ruin their lives. Sascha Chandler's story is a little different in that he rose to a position of influence and some affluence in society and, while he still carries the scars of his abuse, he has fought for justice and he has had the personal skills and access to the resources that have enabled him to do so successfully.
After watching the program I found myself mulling on two questions. One came directly from the program and the other is a more general comment on the approach public broadcasters take to stories like these compared to the commercial media.
Four Corners: on windmills...
The Four Corners program on Monday that followed Australian Story was exploring a newly developing controversy in society, and more especially rural communities, about wind farms. Again from the program's website here is a brief look at part of thei synopsis:
For some time now, people forced to live close to wind farms have expressed concern that the noise from the turbines is affecting their health. They say the machines have destroyed their lives, causing headaches, high blood pressure and nausea. Four Corners goes to several wind-farming hot-spots across Australia to meet the people who claim they are simply collateral damage as the nation scrambles to embrace renewable energy.
Again here is an issue for serious public debate. Our public broadcaster, rather than trying to stir up the emotions in a community in the pursuit of ratings is seeking to calmly "put the questions" that need to be thrashed out through scientific or social research and through reasoned debate.
Judith Lucy and her spiritual journey — and our's, and the institution's...
Judith Lucy is seriously funny. Have I already suggested that you ought not miss this program. I should warn though that it might not be recommended for those who believe the media, and comedians, are always picking on the Catholic Church, or if you seriously believe the likes of Pope Benedict and George Pell are "on the right track" and their policy settings, and along with a little help from the Holy Ghost, very soon they'll turn around the great exit out of the pews that has characterised the last half century and more. (Watch out: my prediction is that the next development in Benedict's agenda is that we'll be told to drop use of the term "the Holy Spirit" and re-adopt the term "the Holy Ghost").
Judith Lucy actually asks a lot of the questions people like those who have been attracted to Catholica have been asking of themselves, and their church: what do we actually believe today? (The fascinating interview with Peter Kennedy of the St Mary's in Exile Community in Brisbane takes us to the extreme of some of the questions various people on Catholica have been probing: what is our view of Jesus and God today? Is prayer efficacious?)
In a different cultural climate to the one we are in at the moment I could see a program, or method, like the one used by Judith Lucy as a serious vehicle for re-evangelisation — and a gzillion times more effective than World Youth Days and Calling Catholics Back Home. Sadly I don't think we're in that climate at the moment and this program is likely to make the conservative elements who presently run the institutional agenda an even bigger laughing stock than they have managed to make themselves. What is fascinating and revealing though is that the very fact that a program like this has been made demonstrates that "religion and spirituality" continue to be two hot topics for public discussion today in wider society. Again hats off to our public broadcaster for having the temerity to fund such a culturally provocative and and thought-provoking and screen it in an accessible main stream time slot.
Some more general closing comments...
On our recent visit to the United States one of the big media stories raging there was the one concerning the young mother who is alleged to have killed her daughter [See : Death of Caylee Anthony]. Everytime we turned the television on wherever we were the story was being discussed to death. In the end, as you probably know, in recent days the woman has been found not guilty. That whole episode, I submit, is an excellent example of commercial media "whipping up community emotions over a contentious issue" in pursuit of its own ratings and profit agenda rather than seeking to calm the emotions of a community and explore seriously the circumstance of that event or why, if someone did murder the child, why they might be driven to those sort of behaviours.
If you haven't already guessed from the sort of programs I am constantly referring to on Catholica, I am an enormous fan of public broadcasting and the important role they play in helping civilize civilization.
Click on the image below to visit the Judith Lucy website:
Full URLs of programs mentioned in this commentary:
Brian Coyne, 28 Jul 2011
What are your thoughts on this commentary?