‘… and with Clive Myrie in Jerusalem.’
Watching the television news has become difficult again. So many reports ‘containing distressing images’. So many scenes of destruction and despair. So many innocents slaughtered. So many examples of ‘man’s inhumanity to man’, which, as Robert Burns wrote, ‘Makes countless thousands mourn!’ Reporters from deep within the turmoil telling the stories of the horror taking place.
We’ve had periods like this before. It was the same in the early days of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. And then, for different reasons, the first few weeks of the pandemic. Reporters from deep within hospitals telling the stories of the horror taking place. Scary, distressing stories. Not something to sleep easily upon after the Ten O’clock News.
Indeed, a recent survey of over 21,000 people carried out by the Universities of Sussex and Brighton showed that anxiety had increased by 20% after watching the news, with happiness decreasing by 15%.* Anecdotally, it seems, many no longer watch television news – it’s somehow less painful to listen to or read it on online or on paper.
In recent years, we have all witnessed the rise of ‘fake news’ and social media, a source of pleasure for many and ‘instantaneous rage’ and ‘misinformation’ for others. Such is the influence of these factors, the BBC now has a specific service (appropriately called BBC Verify) addressing both the absence of and the need for truth and accuracy. And what a sad state of affairs to be living in a society which has got itself in to a place of having to verify the truth in such a way.
Of course, for decades we have learnt about significant events, the different interpretations placed upon them and the truth such reports contained (however ‘truth’ may have been interpreted at times). History has often revealed the many occasions where the population was lied to or misled (or protected) by those in power. But somehow it seems different now. Much as those reporting and presenting the news attempt to provide both information and a balanced view, well on the BBC at least (although some would dispute even their attempts), it seems to me that broadcast news has ‘lost its innocence’.
The core result of all this is that we can find ourselves overwhelmed by what is going on in the world – and when we add in climate change (and the recent floods being yet another sign) and the cost of living crisis etc… let alone our own personal times of difficulty and uncertainty, it is no wonder that anxiety and unhappiness increase.
Ironically, I write this in a place which seems very far away from all that is going on at present – and I am grateful for that. As I sit here on retreat at Mucknell Abbey in Worcestershire I am conscious of being in a privileged and safe place, unlike many others.
My mind is drawn back to something else I saw on the television. I recently caught up on an edition of Later with Jools Holland shown earlier this year. In it, Jacob Lusk, the lead singer of the band, Gabriels, sang an old Gospel song. As we reflect on what’s going on the world – and in our own personal lives, the words seem apt for the current time:
‘Lord, don’t move the mountain
But give me the strength to climb.’
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*Published as The Screen Test. Radio Times October 2023