Editorial: Copping the Flak – CW and the Corporate Media

Reprinted from The Common Good, No 33, Pentecost 2005

I feel sort of fragile. Grey day, thick cloud lying low over the land, not sure how to deal with this inappropriate attack by the local newspaper on one of our Catholic Worker houses and the people working at it. It affects everybody. Some of the friends of kids living in the houses aren’t allowed to visit anymore because of what the reporter wrote and the editor published in the local newspaper. Everybody is a bit fragile and not sure how to respond. And feeling totally misrepresented.

Truth’s a strange sort of thing. It often evades the most intrepid of reporters. We know this sort of thing hasn’t happened only to us. It’s happening to all sorts of people across the community. Sports leaders, Maori advisers, Church ministers, even our much loved former mayor – many good, honest, hardworking, humble people have recently got to adorn the front pages of our local newspaper and had insinuations made about them and aspersions – often falling just short of libel – cast on their integrity.

The people attacked are ordinary people with families – children, nephews, nieces, brothers, sisters, parents, aunts and uncles. Some of the people attacked have been forced into hiding or become ill or severely depressed, lost their jobs and, in one case it seems, committed suicide. They often become fearful and have been unable to continue living a normal sort of life. Their families have suffered, children have been alienated and teased at school, siblings shamed in their work places, elderly parents and relations distressed and unable to cope.

The ‘informants’ or ‘complainants’ on whom the reporter relies to get to the ‘truth’ of the matter come from a range of backgrounds. Sometimes they are embittered, angry, hurt people; sometimes they are unwell or disturbed people whose words are manipulated by the media to meet their own agenda i.e. selling newspapers using ‘sensational’ headlines. Sometimes the informants are known liars and convicted criminals, but are portrayed by the media as innocent, eg. ‘solo mother of four who lives in such-and-such a suburb’ .

The important thing for us is to know how to respond and keep going on with our work. And keep laughing and keep our heads up, despite unprovoked attacks. We’ve been at it for nearly 20 years, in season and out of season. We have never sought the headlines. We believe it is God’s work. How then to make our way between the mountains and the deep blue sea? How not to respond with anger? How to be gracious in the face of erroneous reporting and derogatory insinuations? How not to confuse the reporters and the editors who have taken these actions with the actions themselves? For reporters and editors are only people, like you and me, with family and friends who don’t wish to be attacked either.

Let’s hope that with a bit of discussion, discernment, reflection and prayer, the scales will fall from the eyes of those concerned and they won’t feel the need to further attack the people or communities they come across in the in course of their work. That they will take care about whom they choose to interview, whose stories they choose to tell. That the fragility and unevenness, the complexity and the lack of black and whiteness of truth will shine through in the stories they tell, and that love and compassion, not fear and bigotry, will be their guiding principles.

Kathleen Gallagher

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