In 1998, while I was Group News Editor of The Punch Newspaper, I established a faith based media group, Journalists for Christ. Among other goals, the organisation was to encourage Christian journalists to live up to the tenets of their faith in the discharge of their duties. We were interested in promoting a biblical basis for the practice of journalism in addition to the code of ethics of the profession which journalists are required to abide with.
Every third Saturday of the month, we hold a fellowship at the International Press Centre, Obga, Lagos during which various faith and media issues are discussed. It was during one of the meetings this discourse came up. Biblical Journalism: Seven things The Lord Hates based on Proverbs 6: 16- 19
The full text of the Bible verses in Authorized Kings James version reads:
These six things doth the Lord hates: yea, seven are an abomination unto him:
A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood;
A heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief;
A false witness that showeth lies, and he that speaketh discord among brethren.
Excerpts from my message follow:
A Proud Look
What does it mean to have a proud look or haughty eyes as other versions of the Bible puts It.? To be proud according to the Advanced Learners Dictionary is to have too high an opinion of oneself or false ideas of one’s importance, while haughty is appearing proud: showing that other people are thought of less importance than oneself. Do you know any journalist that fits the above inscription? I bet you do or the definition describes your person.
This is what the Bible says about pride: God resists the proud (James 4:6)
The Lord shall cut off … The tongue that speaketh proud things. (Psalm 12:3)
By God’s grace, you can be a top flight journalist, an award-winning journalist or a senior journalist. This is not an excuse to have a too high opinion of yourself by looking down on your colleagues, juniors, contemporary or seniors. There is no problem with having a high opinion of yourself, but when it is too high, you have crossed the line into pride. You must learn to respect other people’s views or approach instead of behaving as if you have the monopoly of knowledge required on any issue. It is pride, like some journalists do, to refuse to be corrected, either by your superior, colleague, junior or the public. You can sometimes be wrong and you must be humble enough to admit it. A word of caution from Proverb 16: 5“Everyone that is proud in heart (even when you don’t show it) is an abomination to The Lord: though hands join in hand, he shall not go unpunished.”
A Lying Tongue
A popular US television news anchor, Brian Williams was forced to pay dearly for making false claims in an edition of his programme. The station suspended Williams for six months without pay over his false story of coming under fire in a US military helicopter in Iraq.“This was wrong and completely inappropriate for someone in Brian’s position … As managing editor and anchor of Nightly News, Brian has a responsibility to be truthful and to uphold the high standards of the news division at all times,” the station said. Despite his public apologies and suspension, it is not certain he will return to anchor the news programme.
Lying has serious consequences like the case of Gehazi in ( 2 Kings: 25-27) who was afflicted with leprosy for lying that he did not collect what he was not supposed to collect. Trust is one of the key ethics of our profession. Lying according to Life Application Bible can be a conscious attempt to deceive. As journalists, we must avoid lying in our reports. This we can do when we tell the full story instead of leaving something out, telling half-truth, twisting facts or inventing a lie to suit our purpose. To be sure there is no small lie. There is no distinction between harmless and serious. Every lie will be accounted for on judgement day.
Hands That Shed Innocent Blood
Can journalists commit murder without shooting a gun or using any dangerous weapon? Yes we can. The pen can indeed be mightier than the sword. The commandment in Exodus 20: 13 is very clear, “You shall not commit murder.” But we constantly do like Cain in Genesis 4: 8-12 and Manasseh (2 Kings15-16) when what we write and broadcast leads to death of innocent person. When our reports lead to crisis in communities and death of innocent persons, we are guilty of murder. When we join in fanning the embers of hate, the blood of those who die from eventual crisis is our hands. When we publish false medical claims resulting in death of sick people, we are guilty of shedding innocent blood.
A Heart That Devises Wicked Plans
The heart of man, according to (Jeremiah 17: 9), is desperately wicked who can know it. A lady journalist once told me how she was recruited to join a group of senior colleagues in her early years in the profession to ‘blackmail’ a union official. After the leader of the group told the official that they had a document indicting him of fraud and asked what he wanted them to do in a suggestive way to demand ‘settlement’, the official asked the young lady who she was since he was seeing her for the first time on the beat. When she responded that she was new, the official asked her to step out from among his colleagues. When she hesitated, the official shocked her when he said “young lady, I say step out from among “thieves”.
Fake and real journalists like the ‘thieves’ referred to above are examples of those whose heart device evil plans. They easily come up with ‘evil’ plans to extort money from individuals and organisations. Their imaginations run wild in their attempt to accomplish their evil or wicked plans. Others in this category use their media platforms to fabricate falsehood and discredit people and organisations for selfish reasons. I have heard journalists saying they will deal with some people or organisations for reasons best known to them. For such journalists, they have to device their evil plans to achieve their goals.
Feet That Are Swift In Running To Evil
For those who device evil imaginations, they can’t usually wait to see their plans materialise. They are ‘swift’ in running to evil.Instead of exercising all necessary checks and get all sides of a story, they are usually in a hurry to do whatever damage they want to do. Proverbs 10:23 acknowledges that to do evil is like sport to a fool, but a man of understanding has wisdom. Isaiah 59:7 warns that wastage and destruction are in their path.
A False Witness Who Speaks Lies
Journalists are supposed to be witnesses of truth; but there those who are false witnesses, contrary not only to the ethics of our profession, but also to the biblical injunctions. Exodus 20:16 says “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” The Bible further states in Psalm 101: 5-6 that “…whoever secretly slanders his neighbor, I will destroy.”Instead of lying about what we did not witness, we should let our readers and viewers be clear about whatever source we are relying on. How authoritative? How reliable are our sources?Your editor may not know you are a false witness, but the Almighty God surely knows. You don’t have to lie to get a front page report. What is the point lying your way to earthly success and losing your soul.
One Who Sows Discord Among Brethren
“Keshi told me that his words were blown out of proportion. This is not good for Nigeria football and the imperative for harmony within the football structure. Keshi himself knows that using such words would not in any away endear him to the NFF.”
The above quotation is from a statement by President of Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), Mr. Amaju Melvin Pinnick while debunking statements credited to the former Coach Stephen Keshi of the Nigeria Super Eagles concerning how the federation is running the game in the country. Keshi, according to Pinnick, was exasperated that his words had been exaggerated. If indeed the statement credited to Keshi was exaggerated, the journalist responsible can be accused of sowing discord among brethren. Our work as journalists is to report any story without seeking to cause disaffection where there is none. The best we can do even in a situation where there is or there is likely to be discord is to stick to the facts of the matter. Romans 16: 17-18 counsels us about what to do about people who sow discord: “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. “
For the avoidance of doubt, Matthew 5:9 says “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.”