Gerry O'Brien on new convenient smaller sized truth
I can remember as a schoolboy standing on the concourse of Waterloo station and looking up at a large poster at the far end of the concourse. It featured a prep school boy in his shorts, blazer and cap with a copy of a newspaper. The caption read, "Top people of tomorrow take The Times today." I suppose it epitomised the self-image of a quality newspaper, whose circulation, though perhaps the smallest of all the broadsheets except the Daily Worker, nevertheless reached the opinion formers and the powers of the land.
It was therefore a sad day at the end of October when The Times finally ceased publication as a broadsheet after two hundred and sixteen distinguished years. The replacement tabloid, since it first appeared a year ago, has been shrouded in a well planned propaganda campaign which has been a classic exercise of half truth, misrepresentation and spin. I wonder why.
First of all there was the dubious claim that the readership were clamouring for the new format. That was surprising because these days those desiring to purchase a tabloid are rather spoiled for choice. From the upmarket Independent to the below-the-bottom-of –the-market Daily Sport there is surely something to suit every taste.
The tabloid quickly became the "best-selling compact newspaper" This was achieved by the cunning ruse of refusing to supply broadsheet copies to newsagents. Some received severely restricted supplies and some could not obtain any at all. By mid-morning there was not a broadsheet to be had, but the unloved tabloid was piled high in every newsagent’s shop in town.
Undaunted, the editor brazenly placed full page advertisements in the broadsheet to extol the virtues of the Daily Mail look alike, which he must surely have realised had been spurned by every reader who had successfully obtained a copy of the prized broadsheet.
When my subscription fell due for renewal, the small print said that I would in future receive vouchers for the tabloid, but if I specifically requested the broadsheet, vouchers for the large format paper could be supplied instead. I was still considering this beguiling offer two weeks later when it was announced in The Times that the last broadsheet had been published.
Why is it that our media moguls are such strangers to the truth? Why do they find it so difficult to offer their readers the plain unvarnished facts? Do they really think we are stupid?
Some time ago The Times decided to abandon its printing presses at Fortress Wapping and decentralise printing to three provincial centres - Letchworth, Manchester and Glasgow. When you buy new printing presses, I suppose it’s a bit like photocopiers in that A3 copiers are rather more expensive than A4 ones.
Well News International wanted to print the tabloid Sun on the new presses, and since the print run of The Times is about a quarter that of their flagship publication, it obviously made good economic sense to use the same presses and print The Times in the same format. The alternative was to buy more expensive printing machinery which would only be used to its full potential for one fifth of the time.
So it was all down to making a quick buck for News International. All this baloney about readers preferring a Daily Mail look alike format was no more than – how can I put it delicately - the waste products of a bull.
Sadly though, News International are not the only people who can make an art form of prostituting the English language. I forget who it was who said you should be careful when you point a finger at someone, because three fingers are pointing back at you.
Following the publication of the Windsor Report which called on the protagonists to jump the lowest imaginable hurdle (merely expressing regret for the consequences of their actions) in order to seek unity, what responses have there been?
ECUSA’s presiding bishop, Frank Griswold was quick on the draw. He said, "One section of the Report recommends the development of a covenant to be entered into by the provinces of the Communion. This notion will need to be studied with particular care. As we and other provinces explore the idea of a covenant we must do so knowing that over the centuries Anglican comprehensiveness has given us the ability to include those who wish to see boundaries clearly and closely drawn and those who value boundaries that are broad and permeable. Throughout our history we have managed to live with the tension between a need for clear boundaries and for room in order that the Spirit might express itself in fresh ways in a variety of contexts."
So what can that all mean? It would appear that whereas the writer to the Hebrews asserted that "in these last days, he (God) has spoken to us by his Son", Mr Griswold is hoping that "the Spirit might express itself in fresh ways in a variety of contexts." It would be surprising if a member of the Trinity, having pronounced on a subject, were to have second thoughts or even change his mind. It is hardly plausible that God might think of something to say now that he had forgotten to say in the first place. But Mr Griswold’s smoke and mirrors response to the Windsor Report is simply obfuscation. Wouldn’t it have helped us all to understand his position unambiguously if he had simply said, "No"?
The Canadian Church announced that its General Synod would be asked to affirm that there was no bar to Canadian dioceses authorising the blessing of "committed same-sex unions". A spokesman said, however, that the motion was merely to recognise the status quo in Canada, rather than make a final ruling on the morality of homosexuality. "Whatever we do to try to face our reality here is likely to cause some stress within the Communion," said Canon Eric Beresford, "but I hope we can attempt to do it in a way that minimises that."
Comment is really superfluous, except to say that it is difficult to understand why God should have gone to such extraordinary lengths to make the Scriptures available to us and to arrange for them to be translated into so many languages at considerable human cost unless he expected us to take them seriously.
For plain speaking we have to turn to Africa. "Where is the language of rebuke?" asked Archbishop Peter Akinola, the primate of Nigeria. "It (the Windsor Report) fails to confront the reality that a small, economically privileged group of people has sought to subvert the Christian faith and impose their new and false doctrine on the wider community of faithful believers." So in the church, just as in the media, money talks.
Gerry O’Brien is a lay member of the General Synod. He represents the Diocese of Rochester.
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