The role of the media in the General Election has been fascinating. There has been such a strong focus on the three leaders of the biggest parties that at some times you might have thought that we were choosing a president rather than 650 MPs.
The news media created enormous excitement about “the Clegg effect.” Now that we have seen the actual results we can reflect on how much of that excitement was a genuine public response to the TV debates, and how much was generated by the news media itself, creating a story arc that culminated in what Nick Clegg has admitted was “a disappointing result” for his party.
The story of Gordon Brown’s campaign was also played out as a media narrative. One of the enduring images will be of the PM in a radio studio at BBC Manchester, head in hands, listening to a damning covert recording made by a Sky News sound recordist an hour earlier.
I’m anxious that the media has taken on a bullying role. Now that the election is over the next big media event (apart from the Church and Media Conference of course!) will be the final season of Big Brother, which starts in about a month. At this moment the production team are planning how they will create stories from the characters in the Big Brother house – what characteristics they will emphasise, what “tasks” they will use to stress the contestants and what juicy information they will release to the tabloid press.
All too often we (the media collectively) pick on an individual – whether it’s a politician, a sports personality or a vulnerable member of the public - and weave a story around them. We do this by putting inhuman amounts of stress on that individual. We want to see whether they will break under the pressure. Some TV talent shows use this as a story device. Think of Jedward, or “DJ Talent”, or others who have been picked up for the purposes of story-telling and then dropped.
Media bullying damages the people who are on the receiving end of it. It also has the potential to damage programme makers and journalists. What does it do to your soul to spend the four months as a “task producer” for Big Brother or I’m a Celebrity devising humilations for contestants you may never meet?
As it happens I was in another studio just along the corridor as Gordon Brown hung his head in his hands. I wish I’d known. Perhaps I could have offered him a cup of tea or a few words of encouragement. Political leaders, programme contributors, and content-makers are all human. Today many of them (many of us?) are exhausted. Let’s pray for them. And let’s give a lead in remembering that we are all vulnerable, fallible, human and loved by God.