Rosemary Hartill (above) BBC Religious Affairs Correspondent tries to imagine how the media would 'hype St. Paul if he was around today
significant); secondly the report is brief, packing a lot into a short space and having to omit a great deal more; thirdly it is concerned with concrete factual events rather than ideas.
In this case the reaction among the silversmiths to Paul's ideas has been judged by the journalist and the news editor as more newsworthy than the ideas themselves, because the reaction has provoked a near-riot.
I suspect that if we were honest with ourselves, we too as buyers of the Ephesus paper would first want to know more about the demonstration that we had heard rumoured at work. Was anyone killed? Was our family safe?
In the long light of eternity, of course, the safety of our family might be better served by hearing the words of St Paul. And the news editor who passed up St Paul might not be among the frontrunners for the great journalistic awards of history. But then editorial decisions are so much easier taken with hindsight.
The question today is whether this style of news reporting, given its limitations, can seriously help to communicate theological ideas. And if so, how can the Church support journalists who genuinely wish to explain those ideas to a wider public?
Or should the Church recognise that the secular media can mostly only distort theological ideas, and should therefore concentrate its efforts on better communication through its own channels: the pulpit, the Church schools, the Church press, and if possible, its own broadcasting stations. Or would that mean only talking to the converted? Or is there a third way?
Relations between churchpeople and journalists vary widely from place to place, person to person. They range from a high degree of sympathy and realism about the difficulties of each other's work to a thinly veiled mutual contempt. I think it's fair to say that the views of Dr David Jenkins, the Bishop of Durham, have confirmed suspicion and dislike of the media. The feeling is that the media has distroyed the views of the Bishop, given him time and space just because he appears to be unorthodox, has sown division and confusion within the Church as a result of the inaccurate, selective reporting, and gone to great lengths to report mostly on the views of his brother bishops who add fuel to the controversy, rather than reflecting the overall mood within the Church's leadership.
The evidence for the prosecution of this string of charges if strong. On numerous occasions, for example, Bishop Jenkins has insisted that he believes in the Resurrection, yet for some months some reports continued to say that he did not.
Yet those in the Church who feel most contempt for the media often express it in the same sweeping generalisations they criticise the press for. They rarely make distinctions between those newspapers and broadcasting stations who attempt, however inadequately, to report seriously on theological subtleties and those who do not, nor do they often make distinctions between errors caused by ignorance and those suggested by malice.
There is certainly a sad ignorance about theology in some newspaper and broadcasting offices. Yet so often Church critics of the media reveal a blinding ignorance about the aims and practical pressures of news gathering.
A journalist has to bring to the attention of a great number of people whose intelligence is in doubt, a simple rendering of what has happened. Frequently there is not much time to write the story. Members of the press are widely disliked, and people are often dismissive of journalists as if there were no distinctions.
Yet many do try to get near the truth. When an event or a story is complex, particularly on theological subjects where the normal, factual framework of reporting has suddenly to cope with ideas and beliefs expressed symbolically, the strain is sometimes intense.
We are expected not only to understand exactly what the theologian means and grasp the religious truth of it, but we have to summarise it and get the heart of the message across simply to the reader, listener or viewer.
The time factor can sometimes cause errors. Radio news bulletins are mercifully brief, but their brevity makes a sharp summary of the key points even more challenging. When the Church of England's General Synod debated in February 1985 the nature of belief and the issues surrounding the theological controversy over Bishop Jenkins, the discussion went on until 1.00 p.m.
In the last moments of the debate, 1 was filing material for use on four different radio networks, trying to listen to the final speeches, and cutting out key sections of taped speeches, and writing a script around them for a longer, fuller report, to go out on the World at One, Radio 4's current affairs programme, in ten minutes' time.
My newspaper colleagues are often under similar pressure to meet evening deadlines. Their copy may be cut down to make room for another story, and a sub-editor chooses the headline for their piece. Journalists are rarely responsible for their own headlines.
All journalists have had the experience the next day of wishing they had had more time to write the previous day's story, to correct an emphasis, to explain more fully, to make clear an ambiguous point.
Next week, Rosemary Handl casts a discerning eye over the church press.